Education: A-Z of universities: London School of Economics

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Age: 102

Address: In the heart of the throbbing metropolis, five minutes from Covent Garden and 10 minutes from the City, between the end of the Strand and the beginning of Fleet Street.

Ambience: Forget the cramped site, feel the intellectual buzz. Despite the rabbit warren of old buildings and modern blocks, the LSE is an international powerhouse, particularly in social sciences. Founded by Beatrice and Sidney Webb to contribute to the improvement of society by the impartial study of its problems and the education of those who turn policy into action. Still retains traces of that high-minded radicalism. A mecca for overseas students and policy wonks, especially Americans. Overseas students have helped to keep it afloat.

Vital statistics: Not the typical British university. Takes 5,600 full- time and 800 part-time students annually, of whom 45 per cent come from 100 countries outside the European Union. Almost one-half (46 per cent) are postgraduates. Has a glittering academic reputation and plenty of lively - even ferocious - debate.

Added value: Its academics interact with the worlds of politics, business and industry on its doorstep. It houses 21 research centres, including the centre for the philosophy of the natural and social sciences,.

Easy to get in to? You're joking. Particularly difficult for law, economics, accounting and finance, government, international relations and management. Most subjects require AAB at A-level. Anthropology, environmental studies, philosophy, social policy, social psychology and sociology require BBB; geography and the environment, BBC. International Baccalaureate welcome.

Glittering alumni: 33 MPs and 31 members of today's House of Lords; 26 current or former PMs and heads of state, including John F Kennedy, President Narayanan of India, and former Jamaican PM Michael Manley; Cherie Booth, wife of our PM; Loyd Grossman, foodie TV presenter; Lord Saatchi, advertising baron; Mick Jagger; columnist Bernard Levin; and George Soros, billionaire financier who can make or break nations.

Transport: Excellent for buses and tubes. Good cycling routes, but mind the atmosphere.

Who's the boss? Cambridge intellectual Anthony Giddens, Britain's foremost sociologist, who astonished the academic world by taking on this worldly position. Famous for the ability to speak for an hour without notes. Is the prophet of post-modernism and all the other isms you can think of. Also amazingly prolific. Has written 30 books.

Teaching rating: Sociology awarded 20 out of a maximum of 24 and communications and media studies 22.

Research: Came third in the research assessment exercise last year (or second, if you take into account the number of staff entered). Awarded top grade 5 or tip-top 5* in social policy and administration, economics and econometrics, economic history, politics and international studies, anthropology, business and management studies, law, international history, accountancy and philosophy.

Financial health: Was in the red last year to the tune of more than pounds 3.5m, according to Noble's Higher Education Financial Yearbook. LSE says that was a blip caused by expensive new student residences.

Nightlife: Has a theatre (the Peacock), cinema and clubs. Chuckle Club on Saturdays is one of London's best stand-up nights. Pubs include the Three Tuns Bar, cheap and popular; the Underground, which holds Friday night discos; and the Beavers' Retreat, more expensive and favoured by staff.

Cheap to live in? Nope, this is London. Costs from pounds 47 a week for a shared room in hall (with meals) to pounds 81 (without meals) for the most expensive single rooms. Private rents are from pounds 60 a week.

Buzz-phrase: Top bowling (general term of approbation, originating with the Ashes this year, has to be said with an Australian accent).

Next week: Luton.