A-Z of Universities: Manchester Metropolitan

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Age: Very young or very old, ie five or 173, depending on where you start.

Incarnations: Started out as the Manchester Mechanics Institution. Morphed through mergers with colleges of art, commerce and technology to become Manchester Poly in 1970, gobbling up a college of education, a food/clothing/hospitality management college and two institutions of higher education along the way.

Address: Five campuses spread out across the city centre and suburbs plus two in the Cheshire countryside. Out there in the big wide ether, website is http.//www.mmu.ac.uk.

Ambience: Young and groovy place in which to be a student or academic. Active gay scene. Many students pick MMU for its party-till-you-die atmosphere. Usual mix of buildings from state-of-the-art modern to Edwardian and Victorian. But student experience depends on the campus eg John Dalton, housing science and technology, is in the city but Crewe (business studies and teacher training) is 28 miles south-west and Alsager (sports science, arts and humanities) is 34 miles away. These last two lose out in the bright lights stakes but are bliss to nature lovers.

Vital statistics: The largest non-collegiate university in the United Kingdom, with more than 30,000 students, many of whom are returners to education.The university is centred on the biggest educational complex in Western Europe including the HQs of Manchester University and UMIST.

Easy to get into? For popular subjects (law, psychology and business studies) A level grades required are BBB or BBC. For clothing/consumer courses CC. A former poly, MMU takes students onto access courses without traditional A levels who progress to degrees.

Added value: Hot for sports science. Runs one of the few MAs in public relations in the UK. Boasts some fancy new buildings. Brilliant sports facilities. New Sugden sports centre is a joint venture between the three universities. This year a new swimming pool opens. Best outdoor facilities are at Crewe and Alsager.

Glittering alumni: Mick Hucknall, rock singer with Simply Red; Steve Coogan, comedian; Julie Walters, actress (Educating Rita); Richard Griffiths, actor (Pie in the Sky, Withnail And I); Jenny Eclair, comedienne; Amanda Burton, actress (Peak Practice, Silent Witness); David Rees, spectacular try-scorer for England against the All Blacks.

Transport links: Movement easy around city centre. Modern tram system. Big airport on the doorstep. Crewe and Alsager are close to rail and motorway links.

Who's the boss? One of the few women vice chancellors Alexandra Burslam who, like many of her students, acquired her degree as a mature student. No academic slouch, she got a first in politics and modern history at Manchester University down the road. Liked by staff for her unstuffy style, came up through the ranks, from politics/public administration lecturer in 1973 to dean, academic director and deputy vice chancellor.

Teaching rating: Drama awarded 23 points out of a maximum possible of 24; modern languages, sociology 21; landscape 20.

Research: Came 72nd out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Achieved a respectable grade 4 (maximum possible 5) in sports science.

Financial health: OK. Safely in the black. Has shown modest but consistent surpluses since 1992.

Night-life: Much merrymaking at main All Saints students' union building which contains four large and noisy bars and has a packed programme of club and dance nights, comedy and cabaret. Beer is cheap - kept at pounds 1 a pint. In addition each campus has its own students' union building and activities.

Cheap to live in? Self-catered university room costs pounds 41.50 a week; catered pounds 63.30. Room in private sector from pounds 35 to pounds 42 a week.

Buzz-word: Happening (as in "It's all happening here")

Next week: Middlesex