Education: A-Z of Universities: Lancaster

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The Independent Online
Age: 33

Address: greenfield site two miles from Lancaster, complete with bunny rabbits, peacocks and ducks.

Ambience: modelled on a Spanish hilltop village (believe it or not), the campus is set in lovely countryside, but many buildings are unlovely Sixties modern. At the centre is Alexandra Square, a paved area swathed in light-coloured brick, among 250 acres of landscaped woods and fields. There are nine colleges, giving it a family feel. Each college has its own identity (Fylde is the rugger buggers' drinking college, Pendle is good for parties, etc) as well as its own JCR and bar. Lancaster, the town, is a quaint tourist centre, attractive when the sun comes out.

Vital statistics: popular with overseas students, Americans and private schools, the university has 7,000 undergraduates and 3,000 postgraduates. Americans like the historic links and proximity to the Lake District. In fact, everyone likes its location. The flexible degree is a selling point: students can take up to three separate courses in their first year. Gets top marks for its research ratings but poor marks for financial acumen. Ran into the red in the Nineties for expanding too fast - huge library extension, shopping area, graduate residences - at a bad moment, and is now pulling itself out.

Added value: extended library and computers give succour to swots. Investment in the arts means the university has its own theatre - the Nuffield studio - for student productions and visiting companies, as well as concerts, which are also open to the public. In addition there is the Peter Scott art gallery and a big sports centre.

Easy to get into? A-level grades required for law, ABB; for English, BBB; for mathematics and biological sciences, BCC.

Glittering alumni: Peter Whalley and Marvin Close (Coronation Street writers); Robert Fisk (Middle East correspondent of The Independent; Andrew Battell (from the theatre group Glory what Glory); Roger Ashton-Griffiths (actor famous for role in Young Frankenstein); Alan Milburn (health minister); writers Judith Smith and Terry Riley; Nicola Goulder (general manager of the New London Orchestra).

Transport links: there are direct trains to London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow from Lancaster station. Good bus and coach networks with a minibus shuttle service to the campus. The M6 is on the doorstep. Good hitching from the bus shelter on campus.

Who's the boss? Wily Scot Professor William Ritchie, expert on oil spills.

Teaching rating: 21 out of maximum of 24 for sociology, 19 out of 24 for German, 20 for French, 20 for Italian with Iberian studies, 23 for linguistics.

Research: Lancaster came ninth out of 101 in the research assessment exercise. Awarded a tip-top five stars for religious studies, sociology and management, and a five for statistics, computing, environmental sciences, applied social science and educational research.

Financial health: in contrast to earlier years, when it was running a deficit in operating costs, it's on course to make a surplus of pounds 1.5m in 1996-97 and is forecasting a surplus this year. Claims to be keeping within its overdraft limit but won't say what that is.

Night-life: not the buzziest place in the United Kingdom. But there are plenty of bars/pubs on and off campus, and the Sugarhouse, a club owned and run by the students' union but situated in town. The latter manages to attract big names.

Cheap to live in? Yes. On-campus rents range from pounds 30 to pounds 47. Off-campus the average rent is pounds 40.

Buzz-word: shazzers (women's netball team)

Next week: Leeds