CITIES seeking to boost their economies should look to education rather than the retail trade for success, say researchers.
A three-year project, supported by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, to find out the secret of a thriving conurbation found universities and colleges were a consistent feature.
The pattern holds true across Europe, in spite of the eagerness of many towns to replace dwindling industry with shops.
John Walker, director of the University of Manchester's archaeology unit, said: "As industry declines, higher education becomes one of the major employers, while the industrial process is backed by higher education."
He says successful industrialists over the years have chosen to invest their money in schools and cultural activities which help to create a booming city.
Working with other archaeologists and historians and concentrating on the Manchester Metropolitan area, he is trying to explain why industrial growth happens and why it changes.
The researchers are looking at influences on the area from the Black Death to the present day in terms of physical changes to the landscape and cultural changes within society. They believe one reason for Manchester's success is its long history of individualism.
This, they say, derives from its history as a frontier land with a low population and no dominant lords or religious institutions. As a result, it became an area where people were free to be individuals yet were driven to collaborate with other people to find solutions to some problems.
Now, the researchers want to find out how conurbations like Manchester can build on this history under a new economic regime.
"We hope to show why some societies are inherently innovatory and why some are inherently conservative," said Mr Walker. Their findings should help local authorities in planning policy.