A-Z Of Universities

Central England
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The Independent Online
Age: 5.

Incarnations: Numerous. Previously Birmingham Poly, founded by Mrs T out of 11 colleges of art, commerce, education, music and PE, some of which date back to the mid-19th century.

Address: On nine sites around Brum: the largest is Perry Barr; then Gosta Green (art and design); Westbourne Road (teacher training and nursing); Conservatoire (music school); Bournville (arts); Margaret Street (fine arts); Good Hope Hospital (nursing); Queen Elizabeth medical centre (nursing and radiography); and the jewellery school.

Ambience: Depends on the setting. Bournville and Edgbaston are in leafy suburbs; fine arts are in a refurbished listed building in the city centre, as are the Conservatoire and the jewellery school. Perry Barr is on the northern edge of the city; Gosta Green shares a site with Aston University. Hall places limited but improving. Most students share houses. New halls being built this summer.

Vital statistics: Large student population of more than 25,000, of whom about half are studying part-time. But the university has recently suffered a sudden decline in applicants. Broad first degree study areas include the built environment, engineering, art and design, business, computing, education, law, health, social sciences and music. Unusually, no science (apart from engineering) or humanities (though there is a good English course). No sports facilities on campus.

Easy to get into? You bet. Accepts a wide range of entrance qualifications including A levels,GNVQs, national diploma and access courses.

Added value: Proud to retain its polytechnic traditions of offering mainly vocational courses, many of which involve industrial placements. It is also firmly committed to widening access to all groups, regardless of class, race and age.

Glittering alumni: Comedian Frank Skinner; former formula 1 world champion Nigel Mansell; bhangra artist Apache Indian; athlete and Gladiator Nightshade Judy Simpson; fashion designer Betty Jackson; Larry the cartoonist; and Zoe Ball, children's TV presenter.

Transport links: Cheap buses and trains in the city, Birmingham is easy to get to and from.

Buzz-word: Chill out (Cool it, man).

Who's the boss? Ageing whiz-kid and astronomical physicist Dr Peter Knight, a mover and shaker in the wacky world of higher education policy; now nearly 50, but when appointed at 37 was the youngest head of a major higher education institution. Vegetarian, long-distance runner and high-flyer (he has a pilot's licence).

Teaching rating: Rated as excellent by the higher education funding council in education, music and art education.

Research: Did not enter the research assessment exercise in 1992, presumably because it thought it had little to gain. Last year was rated 109th out of 112. Its strengths lie in joint research with industry, especially through the teaching company scheme and with small and medium-sized enterprises.

Financial health: Claims to be robust. Until this year had never borrowed to finance capital programmes.

Night-life: Birmingham throbs. Many real ale pubs. Lots of student nights. The city is known for its curry and Balti houses.

Cheap to live in? Not bad. You can rent for as little as pounds 30 a week.

Next week: University of Central Lancashire