Going Higher: Why the great outdoors may be the education of a lifetime

Locals sing the praises of their outstanding countryside and it proves a major draw for students, too, along with high quality teaching in a quiet, peaceful and usually friendly environment.
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The Independent Online
One of the attractions of going to a university in Wales or the south-west of England is that many are close to both the sea and some outstandingly scenic countryside. Exeter, Plymouth, Bangor, Swansea, Aberystwyth and Lampeter are all well placed and Bangor, in north Wales, claims with some justice to be the best situated university in Britain for those who like the outdoor life - it is by the sea and three miles from the Snowdonia National Park.

Exeter, which claims to have the most attractive campus in Britain, is near to the national parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor and the heritage coastline of Devon and Cornwall. University of Wales, Swansea with its seafront, parkland setting is also well placed - it is very close to the stunning beaches and scenery of the Gower Peninsula.

Plymouth tends to wax lyrical about its "unique location between Dartmoor, the last great wilderness of southern England, and the sea and the mellow Devon coast". Aberystwyth is a small market town near beautiful beaches and Lampeter is close to some breathtakingly rugged hills and only 13 miles from the coast.

Several of the Welsh university colleges are situated in small towns or cities which tends to make for a friendly atmosphere in which everybody knows each other. Some, like Lampeter and Aberystwyth, are quite remote so getting to and from college to anywhere else can take time - something to consider when working out a budget.

Bangor and Aberystwyth are the more "Welsh" of the university colleges. Bangor is located in a Welsh-speaking area and some undergraduate courses are taught in both Welsh and English. About a quarter of the students are Welsh speaking.

Strikingly, three Welsh universities scored very highly in the recent Red Mole Alternative Ratings Guide - the University of Glamorgan came second after Durham, the University of Wales, Swansea, came third and Aberystwyth sixth. Some 108 universities were rated on accommodation, teaching, union services, sports facilities, nightlife and a variety of other criteria. Cardiff, on the other hand, came 33rd, Bangor 57th, Plymouth 71st, Exeter 72nd, Newport 89th and Lampeter 93rd.

The appeal of the universities and their host towns and cities varies widely. Bangor, for example, is a cathedral city with a population of 17,000. The town is home to some 7,000 students in term time. It is a small, friendly city which is relatively cheap and safe.

As well as having football and rugby teams, Bangor has a range of musical and other social clubs, for example, a samba band and a community circus group, Syrcas Circus. A well known trapeze group, Stage Fright, runs trapeze workshops in the town. Many artists and craftsmen live locally and there is a lively live music culture.

The university is proud of its high-quality teaching. In a recent national newspaper league table, it was placed 14th out of 98 universities, ahead of Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester.

The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which has some 6,000 undergraduates and 1,200 postgraduates, is situated on the mid-Wales coast. It is a small and friendly university in a relaxed, but remote, place.

Dylan Thomas, who was born in Swansea and used to declaim his poetry in the local pubs, described his city as an "ugly, lovely town". The former docklands, however, have been transformed by the development of a maritime quarter, which links the centre of the city to the spectacular sweep of Swansea Bay.

Echoes of Thomas's Swansea survive in the traditional covered market, where fresh seafoods include cockles and laver bread. The university seafront campus is located two miles from the city centre.

The university has some 10,200 registered students.

Lampeter, Wales's oldest university college, is remote and small. The town has a population of some 2,000 and the college has some 1,800 under- and postgraduates. The town prides itself on having the lowest crime rate in the UK. Aberystwyth and Carmarthen are the nearest towns.

The University of Exeter has more than 8,000 full-time students and nearly 2,500 part-time students. The university has three main sites - two, the main Streatham campus and the School of Education, in the city of Exeter and one, the Camborne School of Mines, in west Cornwall. The Streatham campus is built around a country estate overlooking the city.

Exeter has a population of 100,000 and has consistently emerged from national surveys as a city which offers a high quality of life. The university has a reputation for attracting its share of well-heeled students, as well as those from less comfortable backgrounds.

University College Newport, the newest constituent college of the University of Wales, was only incorporated in 1996. It has 2,900 full-time students and 4,778 part-time students.

The college has two main campuses, the Allt-yr-yn campus in Newport, southeast Wales, and the Caerleon campus in Caerleon. The latter is used by students training to be teachers and by environmental studies, English, music, geography, history and sports studies students.

The Newport campus caters for electrical and electronic engineering, computing, manufacturing and mechanical engineering, business and professional studies students.

The University of Glamorgan, formerly the Polytechnic of Wales, is based on a 70-acre campus in Treforest near Pontypridd. The university has 9,689 undergraduates and 2,127 postgraduates. It has a high proportion of business and technology students. Historically, student relations with the local working class community have not been good, but things are now said to be improving.

University of Wales, Cardiff, dominates the centre of Wales's large and lively capital city. It has 11,298 undergraduates and 2,964 postgraduates. Twenty-one subject areas have been awarded an excellent rating for the quality of their teaching and the university was ranked 15th out of 102 universities in a recent assessment of the quality of its research work.

University of Plymouth, which has more than 18,000 students on four campuses, is one of the UK's largest universities. It has 28 subject-based departments and schools offering flexible modular degree programmes. The campuses are sited in Plymouth, Exeter, Exmouth and Seale-Hayne, near Newton Abbot. The Plymouth campus, in the centre of the city, is home to the faculties of technology, science, human sciences and the university's business school. Plymouth is also home to the university's postgraduate medical school at Derriford hospital.