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University of Birmingham

Age: 96.

Previous incarnations? Two: Mason Science College and Queens Medical College.

Address: Three miles from Brum in Edgbaston, and close to the cricket ground.

Ambience: Amazingly bucolic, given its proximity to the urban jungle. Students can feast their eyes on lawns, trees, open spaces and a lake on a largely self-contained 200-acre campus. The city is said to have more trees than Paris and more canals than Venice. Brum is rapidly becoming a hot cultural centre. Good for music - anything from Ronnie Scott's to the symphony hall.

Vital statistics: Excellent reputation academically. Some of the best facilities in Britain, including sports centre with swimming pool, synthetic pitches, squash courts. Big union building contains three bars, six catering outlets and five nightclubs. More than 150 societies offer everything from mountaineering to science fiction.

Easy to get into? Pretty stiff. English requires ABB at A level, law AAB, engineering BCC, medicine ABB.

Added value: 70 acres of playing fields, athletics track, floodlit pitches, Raymond Priestley centre for rock climbing, sub-aqua diving adjacent to Coniston Water in Lake District.

Glittering alumni: David Lodge; Stephen Littlechild, the electricity regulator; comedienne Victoria Wood; Desmond Morris of The Naked Ape fame; Sir Ian Prosser, chairman of Bass; Terry Hands, producer.

Transport links: Good for road, rail and air. Station on the campus.

Buzz word: Blag (a way of getting something for nothing).

Who's the boss? Professor Maxwell Irvine, a clear-headed, articulate Scot who was previously principal of Aberdeen University and believes the university may have to charge top-up fees for tuition to maintain quality. But not before 1998, so next year's students are off the hook.

Teaching rating: Three-quarters of departments have been rated excellent or equivalent.

Research strengths: Materials Science, Local Government, Superconductivity, History, Psychology, Education. In the last research assessment exercise 32 areas out of 53 were rated as being of national or international quality (grades 4 and 5).

Financial health: Sound.

Night life: Jumping. Multicultural dining and shopping.

Cheap to live in? Not as cheap as some cities.

Next week: Bournemouth University