A-Z OF UNIVERSITIES: Imperial College

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Age: 90

Incarnations? Three, as of last week. Established in 1907 as part of London University after a merger between the Royal College of Science, City and Guilds College and the Royal School of Mines. Later mergers with St Mary's medical school and the National Heart and Lung Institute. On August 1 this year it merged with Charing Cross and Westminster medical school and the Royal Postgraduate medical school.

Address: Five in central and west London. Main campus is in posh South Ken across the road from the Royal Albert Hall and close to Hyde Park and the museums. So, when you've had enough of test tubes you can go and squint at a dinosaur. Charing Cross campus is in Fulham Palace Rd; St Mary's is in Paddington; Hammersmith campus in East Acton; and the Royal Brompton in the Fulham Rd.

Ambience: Very salubrious when you're in the main campus. All the benefits of being in London's cultural heartland with the drawbacks of expense and accommodation.

Vital statistics: This is a college for brainy anoraks with a tip-top international reputation and very high academic standards as well as superior teaching and research staff. Includes 46 fellows of the Royal Society and 43 fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Graduates expect starting salaries of more than pounds 18,000 and around 65 per cent go straight on to higher degrees or employment. Courses fairly intensive. But lower than average failure rate. Men greatly outnumber women. One in three students is a postgraduate.

Added value: Building works costing more than pounds 67m are giving lustre to the Victorian and 1960s campus. Basic medical sciences are to be taught in a new Norman Foster building. Excellent student newspaper, Felix, the only weekly student paper produced in the UK. In addition to brains has a reputation for rowing (11 men's and women's Henley wins since 1990) and movies (has the sixth-largest cinema screen in London on campus).

Easy to get into? No, siree. Average entry requirements range from AAB for aeronautical engineering to BCC for biology.

Glittering alumni: HG Wells; Labour MP Joan Ruddock; Trevor Phillips, Independent columnist and TV presenter; Sir David Potter, chairman of Psion; Mary Archer, Jeffrey's fragrant wife; Piers Corbyn, who tells the weather by looking at the sun; Brian May of the band Queen; TH Huxley; Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Ernst Chain, discoverers of penicillin; WE Dalby, railway engineer; WH Perkin, inventor of the first aniline dye, mauveline; PMS Blackett, physicist and nobel laureate; Denis Gabor, inventor of holography and nobel laureate; Lord Penney, mathematician, atomic scientist and former rector of the college.

Transport links: All campuses are near to bus, rails or tube stations.

Who's the boss? Geologist Sir Ron Oxburgh, former chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence. Sat on the Dearing committee. A lover of cats and orienteering.

Teaching rating: Achieved 22 out of maximum of 24 in last year's assessment of chemical engineering.

Research: Came fourth in last year's research assessment exercise, behind Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE. Received the top grade 5 or 5* in 18 out of 24 areas assessed.

Financial health: Says it has the largest turnover, pounds 300m, of any university.

Night-life: dB's student nightclub and Da Vinci's bar popular during the week. Southside bar popular for its range of real ales.

Cheap to live in? Campus halls, in which all first years are guaranteed a place, cost between pounds 23 for a share (with two others) and pounds 58 for a single.

Buzzword: shoeing (boatcrewspeak for beating the other team).

Next week: Keele University