Going Higher: A fresh look at the new centre of learning

The Midlands may not always be the most scenic of places but it has a lot to offer the student - cheap accommodation, a varied nightlife and some of the country's brightest universities. Diana Appleyard investigates the region's changing character

The impression many people still have of the Midlands is that it is something of a cultural desert. Today, however, nothing could be further from the truth. While the factory chimneys of Stoke may still belch out the smoke from 100 factories and the Brummie accent remains as impenetrable as ever, the nature and character of the big cities and towns have changed dramatically.

The Bull Ring still stands in Birmingham - but now alongside it the city boasts the multi-million-pound International Convention Centre, which recently played host for the second time to the European Summit, welcoming leaders from all over the world. Inside the centre is one of Europe's leading concert venues, Symphony Hall, with its state-of-the-art acoustics. Next door to the ICC is the National Indoor Arena, which seats thousands and is now host to some of this country's top sporting and cultural events.

Birmingham has one of the largest student populations outside of London, with around 25,000 students at the University of Birmingham, the University of Central England and Aston University.

Of the three main institutions, the University of Birmingham is the longest established.

The university is sited on a 230-acre campus, in the leafy and affluent area of Edgbaston, and has the feel of a (very large) Oxford college. Many of the buildings are architectural gems and despite being only three miles from the city centre, there is a pleasant, rural air.

Aston University is one of the top science universities in this country. Despite going through a rather lean time financially in recent years - largely due to its refusal to expand as rapidly as many other higher education institutions - the university boasts excellent information technology facilities with 12 computer suites and a pounds 4m local area network which links the entire campus with data and video channels.

The University of Central England has a high ratio of mature students - 63 per cent. About half of the students come from the West Midlands.

Life for students in Birmingham is fun. The city is packed with a huge variety of restaurants - from the infamous balti houses to up-market French and Italian restaurants. The nightlife is extensive and varied, living is cheap and accommodation is plentiful, if not necessarily grand.

Down the A46 from Birmingham lies the city of Coventry. Extensively bombed during the Second World War, it is not the most aesthetically-pleasing city in Britain, but it has the advantage of very cheap accommodation and easy access to Birmingham. The city houses two universities - the University of Warwick and the new University of Coventry.

The University of Warwick is one of the most successful of the new wave of universities, recently ranked higher than Oxford for its teaching standards. Set on a large campus, it has an extremely active students' union and the campus also boasts the Warwick Arts Centre - the second largest arts complex in the UK.

In the city itself is Coventry University. Almost half of the students are mature and the university has an excellent reputation for teaching. It specialises in practical courses.

For perhaps more scenic environs, what better place to look than Nottingham. The campus of the University of Nottingham lies 10 minutes from the city centre by bus. Architecturally impressive, it is seen as a rather well- heeled place and one of the most attractive in Europe.

Down the road Nottingham Trent University is seen as one of the up-and- coming of the new universities. Nottingham itself is a very trendy, "happening" city. Nightclubs are many and various, drinks and restaurants are relatively cheap.

Leicester, like Coventry, suffers from a reputation of not being the most awe-inspiring city in the universe. But the redbrick Leicester University is situated about 10 minutes' walk from the (rather grotty) city centre in a leafy suburb.

In the city itself is the thrusting new De Montfort University, formerly Leicester Polytechnic. One of the most aggressive institutions at marketing itself - it was the first in the country to use television advertising - this is seen as a dynamic place with gorgeous new modern buildings and state-of-the-art computer facilities.

Twenty minutes from Leicester lies Loughborough University, most famous for its sporting and engineering achievements.

It is based in a small market town but its campus is seen by students as an excellent place to socialise.

Derby University is set in the exquisite Peak District and this is the university to come to if you love walking and the countryside. The city is not great but it is cheap and different types of restaurants are plentiful. The university has expanded fast after being given its new status in 1992, and now has almost 12,000 students.

Head north and you reach Staffordshire University, based on two campuses in Stafford and Stoke. While neither place could exactly be described as a sophisticated metropolis, the people are extremely friendly and, once again, living is cheap.

Continue heading north up the M6 and you hit Keele. This rural campus university is famous for the breadth of its courses and student numbers here have expanded by 75 per cent in five years. Its rural situation may not suit everyone's tastes and its nearest centres are Newcastle-under- Lyme and Stoke. Not exactly hot spots, but campus life is said to be lively and there are major plans for the expansion of sports and arts facilities.

Winding your way southwards, you come to Wolverhampton.

The accent here may still be a bit of a joke but this is a very lively city university, with a reputation for technical and practically based courses. It is the third-largest university in the UK, with over 23,000 students and pioneered the open-door higher education policy.

Finally, continue south down the M5 and you come to perhaps the most architecturally pleasing city in the Midlands - the ancient city of Worcester. The campus university college is situated about 15 minutes from the city centre and has around 2,500 students. It is small, friendly - and with access to the city of Worcester it has many good points. Nearby are the Malvern Hills, so no excuse for laziness.

News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape