Click to follow
Birkbeck College, London.

Age: 173.

How many incarnations? Four. Founded by Dr George Birkbeck as the London Mechanics' Institution for "self-improvement and self-help" in 1823. Became the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution and then Birkbeck College in 1907. Gobbled up by London University in 1920.

Address: Malet Street, very Bloomsbury.

Ambience: Urban but interesting, in the heart of academic London. University of London Union close by, containing major sport and and social facilities. Dillons university bookshop and Senate House library a stone's throw away.

Vital statistics: Traditionally the place to go if you have missed out on university education at age 18. Provides degree level teaching and research for students who are earning their living during the day. Mainly part-time. Almost entirely mature students who are highly motivated. Most classes held between 6 and 9pm. Wide age range, though most students aged 20 to 30. Degrees take four years instead of three.

Easy to get into? Depends on how you sell yourself. Conventional entry requirements don't apply if you're over 21. University makes its own assessment of your ability.

Added value: Evening nursery. The libraries, computer facilities and students' union stay open late.

Glittering alumni: Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, vice-chancellor of University of East Anglia; Sidney Webb, the great Fabian and founder of the LSE; Helen Sharman, first British astronaut; and Laurie Taylor, sociologist and satirist.

Transport links: Ace. Surrounded by tube stations and bus routes.

Buzzphrase: "Sparks has gone but his spirit lives on." (In memory of Sparks, the bar manager, who left last month).

Who's the boss? Lady Blackstone of Stoke Newington, now Opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs in the Lords, but once upon a time a dark-eyed young radical who asked sharp questions about the cost of the British embassy in Paris when she was on former PM Lord Callaghan's think tank.

Teaching rating: English awarded "excellent" under the old assessment scheme. Under the new scheme German awarded 20 our of a maximum of 24, and applied linguistics, French and Spanish awarded 19.

Research strengths: Crystallography, economics, French, history, and philosophy.

Financial health: In the black this year but facing a deficit next year unless drastic action taken. The whole of the physics department is under threat.

Night life: Potentially good because of location. But most students too busy for a high life.

Cheap to live in? No one lives there. No way is central London cheap.

Next week: Birmingham Universityn