The elite squad: If you like marketing and Manchester, this Masters degree is perfect for you

They live in swish city-centre apartments, have money in their pockets and work for go-ahead companies. They might not sound like postgraduate students but then theirs is no ordinary degree.

The 10 students are nearly half way through Manchester Masters, a course that was set up to promote the north-western city as a destination for the country's top creative talent. It hopes to stem the brain drain to London where many of the big marketing and PR agencies are based. To qualify the students had to be graduates from one of the city's four universities and compete in a boot-camp style selection.

Now the initiative is to be extended for another year with a fresh set of graduates. "It's a truly wonderful course, applying theory in the workplace and helping organisations to move forward," says Angela Hall, a senior lecturer in marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the programme leader.

The students receive a salary of £10.000 for the year plus rent-free accommodation in the heart of the city and do not have to pay university fees. In return they carry out four placements in local companies specialising in marketing, advertising or PR. The companies contribute £1,500 a quarter to their salaries.

The work experience forms the basis of their academic study and they are required to write a 3,000 word dissertation on each placement plus a final 15,000 thesis.

Those who complete the year will end up with a Masters degree in professional practice from MMU. They are also likely to graduate with job offers, says Sandy Lindsay, the project director and managing director of Tangerine PR, which helped to set up the scheme. "After the first placement we had several companies phone us up and ask if they could keep them," she says.

The scheme is part funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and Manchester City Council. But can the retention of 10 graduates, however talented, make much impact on the leakage of talent to London?

"It's not about 10 students a year but the 60,000 who hear about it. It's saying to them: look at all the brilliant companies and opportunities there are in Manchester. You don't have to go to London to get a great career in marketing," she says. "We hope it will help attract the best talent to our universities as well, knowing they will have the chance to apply when they graduate."

Several of the 10 who were chosen from 150 applicants had spent time in employment before joining the course. Fran Kohlisch, 26, studied at the University of Applied Science in Munich and came to the University of Glamorgan for the third year of a degree in leisure and tourism management.

Instead of returning to Germany, she worked for two years managing one of the university's catering outlets, then moved to MMU for a Masters in international relations.

Her first placement was with Ravensoft UK, a small mobile software development company. At first, working in a company of five technical people was daunting but she ended up shifting the focus of their work from in-house support to mobile phone applications for marketing and brand promotion. Now she is with a bigger marketing company helping to arrange client stands for trade fairs and exhibitions.

"It's a very demanding course and you have to do a lot of primary research while on the placements but I've made a lot of contacts and got experience that I hope will lead to an interesting job. I am very happy to stay in Manchester," she says.

Ric Roberts, 26, from Darwen in Lancashire, originally dropped out of a maths degree at the University of Manchester. He managed a health centre for a few years before returning to the university where he graduated last June with a 2:1 in management. "I applied to a few graduate schemes but I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do," he says. "Then I saw the advert for the Manchester Masters and it was a perfect way to find out where I could fit in."

"It is important work, not making the tea," says Roberts who has been given responsibility for re-branding Miracle Acdo, the laundry detergent first produced 90 years ago by Acdoco, the family-run business in Bolton. "I feel I have won a huge prize by getting on the course."