Higher education in the UK was earning more four years ago than the British computer manufacturing, plastics or office equipment industries.
A report that the vice-chancellors will use to back their arguments shows that universities and higher education colleges made Pounds 11.3 billion in 1995 96.
A team of economic researchers from the University of Strathclyde found that in the same year higher education generated Pounds 43.2 billion of gross economic output.
Higher education added Pounds 21.9 billion to the gross domestic product and generated 715,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
Universities and colleges also had a significant impact on Britain's balance of trade, producing a surplus of Pounds 1.3 billion, with gross export earnings totalling Pounds 1.78 billion.
Gareth Roberts, Sheffield University vice-chancellor and chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals when the report was published, noted that higher education's impact on the trade balance was "one of the most notable findings".
He wrote: "Maintaining this contribution from overseas students will depend in part on preserving the reputation for quality that the UK higher education sector has long enjoyed. This will require early action to ensure that it has adequate resources to meet the challenge of maintaining world-class teaching and research."