CITY MOVES by Alan Shearer and Harvey Nichols could prove absolutely fabulous news for university admissions officers in Newcastle and Leeds by boosting the profile of their localities.
Reports by Heist, which conducts market research for higher education, show most sixth-formers have a hazy knowledge of higher education institutions. Many choose universities on a "brand-name" basis, picking those with long-established reputations or sharing names with cities.
Dave Roberts, chief executive of Heist, said: "Our research would show the image of a city is vital. Most universities and colleges realise that and are now working with local authorities on their marketing strategies."
He said once students had established whether an institution offered their chosen course, they wanted to make sure its location would impress their friends.
"Place is very important and for some people, more so than institutions. I have only ever heard one applicant refer directly to research ratings influencing their choice."
A spokesman for Newcastle University said Shearer's recent transfer from Blackburn had been cited by some applicants to the university this year.
"It would be silly not to recognise that any major event in a city obviously raises awareness of that place," he said. "The same thing occurred in Manchester when the Manchester band phenomenon took off."
Leeds is now experiencing a similar boom, thanks to its vibrant club scene and recent publicity over Harvey Nichols setting up a new store.
Angela Bogg, admissions officer at Manchester University, said university interviews with school sixth-formers in the northwest had found shopping, music and the dance scene were all factors likely to persuade them to apply to Manchester.
"Manchester is on the up for the music scene and has a very high profile with young people," she said. "Applications are up too. The choice of the degree programme is still important but other things being equal then the city is going to have an influence."
The Performance Indicator Project, which measures employers' attitudes to different universities, has in the past looked at the relationship between the standing of a soccer team and the reputation of the local university with employers and found a definite correlation.
But students taking too much account of extra-curricular activities should be warned. The PIP found that 83 per cent of employers believed degree classification was the most important criteria for assessing graduates, placing personal and transferable skills fourth in their list. In previous years, personal skills have always come top.