Trendy Manchester and other parts of the Northwest of England are more popular places to study a degree than London or Oxbridge, a study has found.
The Northwest attracts more students from outside the region than London. Universities in the area have had 50 per cent more applications for places this year than the national average.
Data gathered by the North West Regional Development Agency show that institutions there received 83,800 applications from outside the region, compared with 69,000 for London. Each of the region's universities received an average 22,500 applications this year compared with 15,000 across the rest of the UK.
Figures derived from information supplied by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Higher Education Statistics Agency and the North West Regional Information Unit also place Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan universities among the top five institutions nationwide for applications, beating Oxford, Cambridge and all the London universities individually.
The region also lays claim to having the most popular new university in the country in Manchester Metropolitan, the largest medical school at Manchester University and the biggest provider of teacher training at St Martin's College, Lancaster.
Institutional heads and student leaders in the region said this week that the Northwest's popularity was due to the wide choice, high-quality, low cost of living and vibrant lifestyle it offered.
Alan Cooke, president of Manchester Metropolitan's students' union, said:
"The diverse teaching methods and range of courses, coupled with the natural vibrancy of the city as shown during the recent Commonwealth Games, makes Manchester an extremely attractive place."
Alex Atkinson, academic affairs officer for Manchester University's students' union, added: "It's always been common knowledge that your money goes further in the North than in the South. With this in mind it's not surprising that more students are making their way towards the North of the country. Manchester excels in many academic fields and also has the added advantage of being a vibrant, social nucleus."
Susan McGrath, head of education liaison at Manchester Metropolitan, canvassed the views of potential students on what attracted them to the city.
She said: "Their reply was unanimous: all of the facilities you would expect to find in London - sport, culture, nightlife - are available in Manchester and are much cheaper. Everything is easily accessible because the city is compact."
Sarah Allwood, from Kegworth, Leicestershire, graduated in physics at Manchester University this year and is staying on for a PhD.
She said: "I chose the North because its cheaper and there's a lot going on. I heard that London lacked a campus atmosphere because everything was too spread out."