Plans to attract a further 100,000 overseas students to the UK over the next five years have been unveiled by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Education is becoming increasingly international, Tony Blair said
Bringing foreign students to the UK has become a major economic consideration for universities, amid fears Britain is losing market share.
At a reception for students and sponsors, Mr Blair called for more links between education establishments.
He also officially launched a joint scheme between the UK and India.
The UK-India Education Research Initiative aims to improve educational and research links between the UK and India.
It was launched alongside the second phase of the prime minister's Initiative for International Education (PMI), which aims to attract an additional 100,000 overseas students to study in the UK.
The links between the UK and overseas highlight the "growing internationalisation" of education at all levels, the prime minister said.
"Increasingly education is crossing national boundaries as it prepares our young people for careers in the global economy," he said.
He added: "And it's not just about getting students to choose UK universities and colleges. It's about building sustainable partnerships between our universities and colleges and those of other countries."
Firms BP, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell are to be "corporate champions" for the project.
International students, who are charged higher fees than their British counterparts, are estimated to bring in about £4bn a year to UK universities and about £10bn to the economy as a whole.
Numbers have been rising and there are now about 300,000 overseas students in the UK.
Recent predictions have suggested the global market for international students will grow fast, with one major report predicting the number wishing to study in the UK could triple by 2020.
More than £27m is to be invested over the next two years by the government, the British Council, the education sector and businesses to attract more foreign students.
Mr Blair called for more shared research projects, shared courses and joint degrees and more exchanges of students and academic staff between universities and colleges in the UK and abroad.
Lord Kinnock, chair of the British Council, said: "We very much welcome these initiatives and will play our full part in supporting them financially and organisationally."
Baroness Blackstone, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich - which has more than 3,000 international students from more than 100 countries - said overseas students benefit from a long tradition of high quality education in the UK.
The Conservative's spokesman for higher education, Boris Johnson, said the prime minister was right to highlight the economic contribution made by overseas students.
But he warned universities must not be reliant on fees paid by overseas students.
He said: "I have just been to China and seen for myself how fierce the market is becoming in international students. Rather than setting more targets and quotas we must make sure that UK universities continue to offer the best possible education for the world's brightest students."
Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Sarah Teather MP said it was right to encourage overseas students to study in the UK but the fees must not be used to "plug gaps" in university finances at the expense of places for UK students.
Universities UK said the initiative would help the UK in an increasingly competitive market for overseas students.
Its president, Professor Drummond Bone, said: "We must work hard to maintain our status as one of the foremost partners in international higher education.
"This, after all, is a major export industry - worth more than food and drink, tobacco, insurance, ships and aircraft. It could be worth £20bn to the UK economy by 2020."