A-Z OF UNIVERSITIES : Hertfordshire

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Age: Five as a university.

How many lives? Four. Began life as Britain's first post-War technical college (Hatfield) which had close ties with the de Havilland family and jet airliners. Reincarnated as Hatfield College of Technology and Hatfield Polytechnic.

Address: Sites in Hatfield, Hertford, St Albans, Aldenham (just outside Watford) and Bayfordbury (a rural field station and observatory outside Hertford). All are around 20 miles north of London.

Ambience: Depends on the campus. Hatfield HQ contains engineering, information sciences, natural sciences, health and human sciences and is a big, open, green site with modern, hi-tech buildings. Hertford's centre is a 17th- century mansion, home to the business school and set in 100 acres of parkland. Watford, containing humanities and education, is an 18th-century Gothic pile, landscaped gardens and sculpture park (the home of the banker JP Morgan earlier this century, and where the Kennedy boys used to frolic in the summer). Bayfordbury boasts a large lake, woods and farmland. St Albans, home to law students, is sited in the city centre.

Vital statistics: The flagship of the former polys, it has grown hugely, maintaining its reputation in computer science and engineering. Health and law also highly regarded. Britain's largest learning resources centre is being built on campus with 1,600 study places (desks to you and me) and 800 computers. A state-of-the-art research centre is also going up. Creches on two campuses, fitness centres on virtually every site.

Added value: In a network with the four further education colleges in Hertfordshire, the university is keen to entice into higher education people who would not have gone in the past. It has a special foundation course for mature "returners", and growing NVQ commitment. Vocational qualifications are offered in virtually all faculties.

Easy to get into? Stiffish for a former poly. A-level grades of BCC required for law, three Cs for English, and two Cs and a D for electrical engineering.

Glittering alumni: the youngest woman MP, Claire Ward, 25, who completed her law degree in 1993; veteran actor David Kossoff; comedienne Helen Lederer; Sir Colin Chandler, chief executive and deputy chairman of the industrial giant Vickers; Lady Parkinson, wife of Cecil.

Transport links: The university's own bus company trundles between each campus. All campuses are fairly near railway stations, with regular fast trains to London. Also close to main roads.

Who's the boss? Scottish economist Neil Buxton, former hockey international and manager of the Scottish hockey team. Known for his photographic memory.

Teaching rating: Humanities scored 20 out of a maximum of 24, building services engineering 19, civil engineering 18, sociology 17, modern languages 16.

Research: Came 64th out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Achieved grade 4 (out of a maximum of 5) in physics and computer science.

Financial health: Claims to be fit.

Night-life: Students' union is the main source of night-life. Big, hot entertainments; the biggest this summer was mega Screw Ball. In the past year gigs have included Apollo 440, Ministry, Megadog, Vibe'z, Soul Traders and Speak Easy and the Bavarian Stompers. Font bar - named after a graduate who founded the Phileas Fogg snack food firm - is the place to be seen.

Cheap to live in? Average. But accommodation is rated. All first years get a guaranteed room on campus. Prices range from pounds 38 to pounds 53 a week, without food.

Buzz-word: Hilltoppers (aka local residents)