Central Lancashire
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The Independent Online
Age: 169, if you count its first incarnation as the Preston Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge in 1828.

How many lives? Six. After the above it was transformed into the Harris Institute in 1882, the Harris College in 1956, Preston Polytechnic in 1973, Lancashire Polytechnic in 1984, and a fully-fledged university in 1992.

Address: Preston, former cotton-mill town slap bang in the middle of Lancashire.

Ambience: Situated in the town centre, the university is a mix of old and new. A massive building programme has produced new en-suite residences, a new library and modern teaching facilities. University now has 18,000 students. The town itself, once rather grim, has undergone much redevelopment. It is a bustling place, still friendly - no one lets the rain dampen the spirits - and with close-knit communities.

Vital statistics: As a former poly, it is vocationally oriented. Courses include fashion promotion, product design, employee relations, financial services, horticultural technology and management, and chemistry with international business. It has one of the biggest European exchange programmes of any British university, as well as a popular American exchange. Both bring a welcome cosmopolitan feel to the campus. It also boasts a large, institution-wide language programme. About 2,000 students are learning a foreign language alongside their main degree. And it has an extensive network of partner colleges throughout the north and beyond, including a new link with the Drama Centre in London.

Easy to get into? Depends what you want to do. A-level grades of BBC needed for journalism, but two Ds for science and technology. Average requirement is three Cs to two Cs and a D.

Added value: The university was over the moon last year when it won the biggest Lottery pay-out to a single applicant from the Sports Council with an pounds 8m grant. That money is going on a huge outdoor multi-sport complex including six soccer pitches, four rugby pitches, tennis courts, cricket pitch with pavilion, an athletics track with grandstand, and an all-weather pitch.

Glittering alumni: Andy Goldsworthy, sculptor and artist; Mark Beaumont, journalist on New Musical Express; Joe Lydon, former rugby league international.

Transport links: Great for hitching. Good road and rail access. Takes two-and-a-half hours by train from London and Glasgow and less than one hour from Manchester and Liverpool.

Who's the boss? Brian Booth, an economist/statistician and a soccer nut (he's a fan of Preston North End football club and a trustee of the national football museum).

Teaching rating: Highly rated by the higher education funding council in linguistics, journalism and modern languages.

Research strengths: Came 93rd out of 112 in December's research assessment exercise. Scored a respectable 3a for history, law, built environment, pure maths and physics, and 3b in psychology, biological sciences, European studies and professional ethics.

Financial health: The university claims it is very healthy indeed. As an economist, the vice-chancellor, Brian Booth, is good at balancing the books.

Night life: Lots of pubs and reasonably priced places to eat. The real gem is the students' union dance night, called "Feel", voted best student club by The Observer, one of the top 30 clubs in the country by DJ magazine and given the five-star clubbing rating by Mixmag.

Buzz phrase: "Feel's fantastic" (as in the students' union club). And women are called "love". So get used to it.

Cheap to live in? Yes, cheap beer, food, private accommodation. University rooms more expensive.

Next week: City University.