The shortlist was drawn up after universities secretary John Denham announced a drive to catalyse regeneration. Accrington, Ebsfleet, Halifax and Thurrock are also named.
"In such challenging times, never have universities been more important to economic development in rural areas, towns and cities," Denham said. The government aims to open 20 higher education centres in the next six years.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England will consult on the bidding criteria and publish proposals in the new year.