Undergraduates leave the hovel behind and savour four-star accommodation

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FORGET THE images of squalid hovels, unplastered walls and tired furniture sagging in the kind of student hovels made famous by The Young Ones.

Thousands of students turning up for their first year of university this weekend will enjoy facilities that were once associated with four-star hotels rather than the shabby undergraduate digs depicted in the 1980s television sitcom.

Those starting life in a hall of residence can now enjoy designer residences by famous architects, rooms with en suite bathrooms, their own phone and Internet access, or even a mini-bar. They may not follow the ancient quads and wood-panelled elegance of the Oxbridge colleges, but universities across Britain have bowed to demand for home comforts and all mod cons from the class of '99. They have also seen the benefits of home comforts for the lucrative out-of-term conference trade.

Students turning up at the University of East London's new pounds 32.5m campus, which opens today, will enjoy views over the Royal Albert Dock and the Thames.

Their self-catering flats, complete with en suite shower rooms, are barely 30 seconds' walk from lectures and could pass muster as a wealthy City worker's pied-a-terre.

Mark Bayliss, head of estate services at the University of East London, said: "We are in a marketplace and students are buying a package.

"It's not just the education, but it's also the students' experience. The more exciting we can make it, the more rewarding we can be."

Greenwich University's Avery Hill halls, in Eltham, south-east London, include a mini-bar-style refrigerator for every room and a private bathroom.

One of the students, Matt Arnold, 29, moved into his room on the site last week, ready for the start of the final year of his BEd primary education course.

He said: "I do like a bit of luxury. When I found out the rooms had their own bathroom it was a definite bonus, because I don't want to queue up with five other people in the morning. Having my own telephone is important as well, because there are 36 people in this block and you can't share a payphone.

"The Internet facility is great, because I can use the university facilities 24 hours a day, and log in at 10, 11 or 12 at night to work. Before, you were restricted to the library opening hours." The university spokesman, Nick Davies, said: "It's like a village. The rooms are arranged like flats, with a shared kitchen, but they do each have their own bathroom. There's a small fridge, a bit like a mini-bar, to put your milk and other things in."

At Nottingham University, which opens its new pounds 50m campus later this month, undergraduates will be able to relax on the Jubilee Campus, designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, the architect of the new Glyndebourne theatre and the controversial office development for members of parliament at Westminster.

The 750 en suite bedrooms at the new Nottingham development have been snapped up, despite a rent supplement. The estates manager, Chris Jagger, said: "All of our 5,600 rooms are wired for voice and data communications. These things are now the norm ... students are prepared to pay a premium for en suite rooms and there is high demand."