A-Z of Universities: Luton

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Age: Four

How many lives? Six. First incarnation was as the Modern School in the 1890s. Metamorphosed into a technical institute, then a technical college, then a college of technology, then Luton college of higher education and, finally, a university (in 1993).

Address: Luton, Putteridge Bury (in Hertfordshire) and all the main hospital sites in Beds, Bucks and Northants.

Ambience: Surprisingly up-market. Luton campus is next to listed church - in which graduation ceremonies are held - and the Arndale shopping centre. Putteridge Bury campus (business school) is four miles away in a wonderful neo-Elizabethan mansion set in grounds designed and planted by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll.

Vital statistics: Luton is the butt of all jokes about new universities, having squeezed under the wire just before the door was closed on upstart colleges with ambition. It was never even a polytechnic. In 1989, as a college of higher education, it ran one degree; now it has numerous degrees, specialising in combined and applied programmes and recruits heavily through clearing. Has grown rapidly, spawning new buildings, halls of residence and a state-of-the-art learning resources centre.

Added value: Modular degrees. Plus a gargantuan May Ball - university claims it's the biggest in the country - held in the grounds of Luton Hoo estate.

Easy to get into? Yes. It welcomes students without traditional A-levels. But for popular subjects such as law and media production, performance and technology, it makes offers of two Bs at A-level.

Transport links: Good. M1 is close by. So is London Luton International Airport. Trains whisk you into central London every 30 minutes. Bus station is five minutes' walk away.

Who's the boss? Mathematician Dr Tony Wood, who has an absorbing interest in the workings of the NHS. He's chairman of the Beds health authority and is retiring early - next August - to pursue that interest.

Teaching rating: Out of a maximum of 24 points, building studies scored 22, linguistics 21, languages 20, electrical and electronic engineering 20 and sociology 18.

Financial health: Very little cash in hand and few reserves. Was pounds 1.8m in the red in 1995-96, according to Noble's Higher Education Financial Yearbook. Was also in the red last year but says it's in the black this year and on course to lay down pounds 1m in reserves. Claims to suffer from consistent underfunding: higher education funding council, please note.

Glittering alumni: Sir David Plastow, the university's chancellor and chairman of the Medical Research Council, and former chief executive of Vickers; pop singers Ian Dury and Paul Young; Anne Stanton, chief cartographic editor at the AA.

Research: Came 101 out of 101 in the research assessment exercise.

Nightlife: Main haunts are the student union night club, the Underground, and the SU bar. Legends and The Zone are popular clubs in town, along with pubs Fedora and Firkin, Eddie's Bar, Scruffy Murphy's and the Rat and Carrot.

Cheap to live in? University accommodation, including shared houses and halls of residence, ranges from pounds 42.50 to pounds 52 a week. Private rooms cost less.

Buzzword: innit?

Next week: Manchester

By Lucy Hodges