Precious metal of Goldsmiths

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In one of the most run-down and unprepossessing parts of the capital is a higher education institution that fizzes with creativity, and did extraordinarily well in the 1996 research assessment exercise: Goldsmiths College.

Among its alumni are the painter Bridget Riley and the fashion designer Mary Quant as well as, more recently, three Turner prizewinners - Anthony Gormley (of the Angel of the North), Damien Hirst (who put that sheep in formaldehyde) and Gillian Wearing who last year won the award for - among other things - her video of policemen sitting silently. Other graduates include most of Blur, John Cale of the Velvet Underground, the comedian Julian Clary and Brian Molko of Placebo.

Success seems to come naturally to its graduates. Why? Nick de Ville, professor of visual arts, thinks it's because the college is of the streets. It's not an ivory tower. And it represents the London inner-city culture around it . If it were in a leafy suburb it would not be so successful, he thinks.

For drama professor Simon Shepherd, the answer lies in giving the students a lot of freedom to do their own thing. "But it's also important to put them under pressure, to give them new problems to solve, to provoke them into thinking - all within safe limits," he says. "And there is this sense that what they're making is the real thing. It's not just something being done to get a degree."

Above all, the college is really trying to give a wide access - to welcome students from a range of backgrounds and with different kinds of musical and artistic experiences, says music professor Simon McVeigh. It has an extraordinary mix of races and ages, a high proportion of women and a lot of mature students.

"We're very interested here - and I know Simon Rattle has expressed this view - in attracting students who have not come through the traditional A-level route."