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Age: 33.

Address: Two miles from Colchester, built in a large park.

Ambience: Set in Constable country (Constable's painting Wivenhoe Park hangs in the National Gallery, Washington DC), Essex is a child of the Sixties, built of concrete but on a green field site. Main features of the concrete skyline are six residential towers each divided into 14-16 flats. Trendy Wivenhoe, a couple of miles away, is an ex-fishing village, now a thriving port where academics and some students live. Winter can be cold and windy for soft southerners.

Vital statistics: A small, friendly university with fewer than 6,000 students, Essex had a wild and woolly youth. It is now the New Labour of universities, having grown respectable and strongly academic. Still a centre for the social sciences. Hefty contingent of overseas students, plus large and growing graduate school.

Added value: Encourages overseas study, eg exchanges with universities in Europe, Russia, Central and Latin America and the US. Houses the Economic and Social Research Council Centre on Micro-social Change, which runs a long-term project monitoring all aspects of life in Britain. Small gallery is home to an astonishing collection of modern Latin American art.

Easy to get into? Middling. Requires the following A level grades: ABB in law, BBC/BCC in most social science and humanities courses, BBC in psychology, CCC-CCD in other sciences.

Glittering alumni: MPs Virginia Bottomley, John Bercow (Buckingham), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden); plus Oscar Arias, Nobel prizewinner; Rudolfo Neri Vela, Mexico's only astronaut; Ben Okri, Booker prizewinner; Peter Josclin, Warwickshire's chief constable; Brian Hanrahan, journalist; Nick Broomfield, documentary film maker; and many academics, including half of all UK sociology professors.

Transport links: Good, if you want to get to the Continent, the rest of East Anglia and London. Less than an hour from London by train. Not so good for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Who's the boss? Professor Ivor Crewe, scholar of politics and telecommentator, who has been in post for less than two years.

Teaching rating: 24 out of 24 in electronics, 22 in sociology, 21 in modern languages and linguistics.

Research: Came 11th in the research assessment exercise with a 5*, the tip-top grade, in government and politics (the only department to carry off a maximum grade four times in a row) and sociology (four times in row). Earned a 5 in economics, law and history of art.

Financial health: Claims never to have posted a deficit.

Night-life: Misses out on touring bands through proximity to London. But students union has received visits from Echobelly, the Charlatans, Shed Seven and the Bluetones in past two years. Popular regular house "Rapture" night. Students also hit Colchester for its six or seven night- clubs and bars and pubs.

Cheap to live in? Certainly by the standards of the South-east. Plentiful accommodation starts at pounds 38 a week.

Buzz-sentence: Meet you in the bar after checking my e-mail.

Next week: Exeter.