A-Z of Universities; South Bank

Age: 106, if you date it back to the Borough Polytechnic Institute.

Incarnations: Three. Borough Poly merged with four further education colleges in 1970 to form South Bank Polytechnic (named after the South Bank complex). Kept the name South Bank when it became a university back in 1992.

Address: Three locations: Southwark, the main campus, at the Elephant & Castle, London SE1; Wandsworth Road, London SW8; and Whipps Cross (a nursing college) in Essex.

Ambience: London sites are deeply urban. This is concrete rather than ivory towers. The Elephant & Castle consists of two roundabouts and their thundering rush-hour traffic, surrounded by some grim buildings and a pink (yes pink!) shopping centre. But the area is a whole lot better now than it was 15 years ago. The university has invested big-time in new student residences, the new Perry library and the brand new pounds 6m learning resources centre (technological library with Internet access, for example, holds 600 people).

Vital statistics: Expanded hugely in early Nineties and has just under 19,000 students. Stayed true to its gritty south London roots. Courses are practical and vocational. Many include sandwich placement in industry. Many mature students and a rich ethnic mix.

Unusual features: Centre for Explosion and Fire Research and the National Bakery School.

Added value: University now owns South Bank Techno-Park where lurks Piers Corbyn, brother of MP Jeremy and Britain's alternative weatherman (he can forecast the weather by looking at the sun). Good sports facilities - a sports hall and gym plus 21 acres of playing fields in Dulwich. Prides itself on basketball and rugby prowess.

Easy to get into? Yes. Access courses enable people without A-levels to get a foot on the higher education ladder. For law, one of the most popular subjects, you need three Cs taken at a single sitting.

Glittering alumni: Nick Leslau, property developer who bought the Trocadero; Greg Searle, Olympic gold medal rower; Mick Jarvis, international globe- trotting gas exploration expert for Amoco; Nicola Williams, black woman barrister and novelist; Umer Rashid, Middlesex cricketer.

Transport: A kilometre or so south of the Thames, South Bank's not a million miles from the heart of London so it's good for the Tube. And trains. And buses.

Who's the boss? Spurs supporter Professor Gerald Bernbaum, one-time academic (sociology of education) from Leicester University.

Teaching: Rated 22 out of maximum 24 in languages and town and country planning/housing; 20 in media studies and civil engineering; 19 in sociology and electrical and electronic engineering; 18 in chemical engineering, building (including surveying), food science, land and property management.

Research: Came 66th out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Achieved grade 4 (top grade is 5) in social policy.

Financial health: In the black.

Nightlife: Tavern pub, newly refurbished Isobar (cafe/bar/disco) and the Arc for 1000-plus students and live bands. And you have London at your feet, including ultra-trendy Ministry of Sound club close by.

Cheap to live in? Hey, no. It's London. In hall you pay pounds 72 a week without food for an en suite room or pounds 60-62 for a single study room. Private sector rental pounds 55-65 a week.

Buzzphrase: As It Goes (title of South Bank magazine).

Next week: Southampton University.

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