Luton, De Montfort, South Bank and Staffordshire universities were the most prolific advertisers in national newspapers during last year's clearing, in a bid to fill their undergraduate places.
More than 100 institutions advertised in national newspapers from August 18 to September 13 1994, collectively spending more than Pounds 1 million.
In a league table compiled by Riley Advertising the top 16 universities and colleges bought more than 50 per cent of the media space. These top 16 included just one "old" university, Bradford. But four other "old" universities, Liverpool, Salford, Brunel and Queen Mary and Westfield College came in the top 39 institutions - which took out 80 per cent of the advertising.
The researchers selected a sample of 179 institutions offering first degree courses via the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and measured advertisements in 16 newspapers.
These newspapers carried some 30,000 column centimetres of undergraduate and HND recruitment advertising.
If television were to be added to the cost of advertising then the table would look different, with De Montfort topping the league for its high-profile campaign.
A Riley Advertising spokesman said: "Higher education is now a market, and universities like to know how much their rivals are spending on advertising places."
The survey used the 1991 and 1992 surveys by the Higher Education Information Services Trust as benchmarks and offers comparisons with these years.
The University of Bradford has rocketed up the table, from 124th in 1991 to 15th in 1994. Likewise Brunel, which went from 121th in 1991 to 33rd last year.
Riley Advertising plans a similar survey this year.
Tony Wood, vice chancellor of the University of Luton, said: "We concentrate all our advertising budget in newspapers during clearing and find it a very effective way of filling our places."