Old rivals in the Northeast are sinking their differences and embarking on joint ventures in a bid to make an international impact. In our latest regional focus, THES reporters examine an outbreak of collaboration
"We've got a very good buzz going in Newcastle," says Chris Harris, a director at Newcastle University. "There is a very definite youth good-time culture in the city, which is clearly a contributing factor to the high demand for our courses."
He is revelling in the media's recent reinvention of Newcastle as "the party city", which appears to have done wonders for recruitment to the region's higher education institutions.
"This place is buzzing," confirms perhaps a more qualified scrutineer, Angela, an 18-year-old undergraduate from Surrey, who is enjoying a different kind of revelling at Julie's nightclub in the Quayside area. It is no longer, it would seem, "grim up north", and Newcastle's 60,000 student population will be the first to confirm it.
Since Newcastle grabbed the headlines in 1995 when American travel firm Weissman listed Newcastle among the ranks of Rio de Janeiro and Las Vegas as top of the world's party cities, the Northeast has benefited from positive press. Attention has focused on major investment from high-tech industrial giants such as Siemens; a Premiership football club attracting top international stars; Newcastle Brown ale; and even good food. It has confirmed what the locals have long known: Newcastle is "the place to be".
Mary Barker is project manager of Student City, a marketing and research initiative jointly funded by Newcastle College, the city council and the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria as part of the Newcastle Initiative.
"The city's night life is by far its biggest strength in attracting students, followed by the friendly people and the relative low cost of living," she says.
Newcastle has seven theatres, 14 cinema screens, a new Pounds 10-million 10,000-seat sports and music arena, more than 100 restaurants and the country's largest city-centre shopping complex, Barker says.
But as students' personal maintenance costs mount, the relatively low prices could become a big selling point. "Rents here are between Pounds 25 and Pounds 40 a week for students. And beer on some of the student nights in town is Pounds 1 a pint."
If this sounds too good to be true, Ms Barker adds: "Our research suggests that people from the South perceive Newcastle as being unsafe." But even that is just a question of prejudice, which is steadily being eradicated, she believes.
In conjunction with the city's two universities and Northumbria police, the Newcastle Initiative is piloting "Walksafe", a scheme to provide radio-linked escorts for worried students out after dark. There is also the Landlord Accreditation scheme, to ensure that student accommodation is properly secure from thieves.
Crime in the city, the marketeers will also point out, is on the decline. Contrary to the image of ram-raiders and joy-riders running rampant here, Newcastle's crime fell by 20 per cent in 1996 compared with the figure for 1995. "Reported worries about safety are usually just misconceptions," Ms Barker claims.
"There is not even much of a town and gown problem. One in six of the city's young people are students and the community is broad enough to absorb them. And the students are wise enough to know not to go drinking in the local hot- spots at the weekend when all the locals are on the razzle-dazzle."