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Age: 5 as a university; or 99, if you dig back to its origins in West Ham municipal college.

How many lives? Four. In 1970 it was reincarnated as North East London Polytechnic after an arranged marriage with South East Essex technical college in Barking. In 1989 it was renamed Polytechnic of East London.

Address: Two campuses, plus business school and art & design and architecture with art in separate buildings. It stretches four miles from Barking to Stratford. Architecture and fine art are in unwanted local buildings, but business is in swish premises with purpose-built lecture theatres and mod cons. Barking is a busy site, accommodating cultural studies, law, land surveying, engineering, industrial design, economics, sociology, languages and humanities. A state-of-the art Edward Cullinan-designed waterside campus opens in London's Docklands in 1999.

Ambience: Very East London. Rag trade, kaleidoscopic ethnic mix meets Docklands Post-Modern. Stratford is the new site for the Channel Tunnel rail terminal and loaded with City Challenge money. Also, it's only 15 minutes from the City.

Vital statistics: A former polytechnic, its broad-based programmes allow students to study two or three subjects, eg, design and environmental studies; almost 13,000 students, more than half of them mature, often living at home; 50/50 gender balance; three-quarters from Greater London and the Home Counties.

Added value: Known for its innovative courses, eg, innovation studies, art in architecture and wildlife conservation. Special needs a priority: dyslexia workshops and RNIB centre for the visually impaired. It runs a mentoring scheme to match black and Asian students with their counterparts in employment. Part-time options in most areas. Two nurseries for children of students and staff. Link with West Ham United football club - careers advice for when players hang up their boots. Euro-funded Business Development Centre for local industry.

Easy to get into? Yes, it's raison d'etre is to lower the barriers to higher education. Mature students need access qualifications, or can enter through a system that rates their previous experience. Popular subjects - fashion, media, fine art, law, architecture, social work, PCGE - receive huge number of applications and require decent grades.

Glittering alumni: Hilary Armstrong, environment minister; Alex Trotman, and Iain McAllister, senior executives of Ford; Mark Frith, editor of Sky magazine; Ken Russell, film director; Eileen Carey, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Transport links: Close to overground station, Tube and bus routes.

Who's the boss? Frank Gould, economist, formerly at the University of New South Wales and at Central London and Leeds polys.

Teaching rating: Excellent in cultural studies, architecture, fashion and marketing.

Research: Came 88th out of 112 in the research assessment exercise. Received a top grade 5 (rare for a new university) in cultural studies. Has innovative work in transport studies, east London studies, mobile robots and virtual reality for rehabilitation after brain damage.

Financial health: Claims to be fit despite cuts.

Night-life: Two lively student bars, regular bands and themed evenings.

Cheap to live in? Compares well with other London institutions. University rooms pounds 36 to pounds 53 a week, self-catering.

Buzzword: kickin' (general term of appreciation)

Next week: Edinburgh