Higher education is Britain's top asset for a positive image overseas, an international probe by the British Council and Mori has found.
Young professionals surveyed in 28 countries gave British higher education a more positive rating than any other area, including business, institutions, society and creativity.
The survey, the second commissioned by the British Council to discover how Britain is perceived overseas, discovered that young, educated foreigners generally hold British higher education in higher regard than that of any country outside the United States.
The news will be welcomed by British Council chiefs, who are leading a £5 million campaign to recruit 50,000 more overseas students by 2004-05.
But a report on the findings published yesterday also warns that although higher education is "clearly a major national asset", it still suffers in many parts of the world from a "Dead Poets' Society" image of being "slightly old-fashioned and out of touch".
British institutions were seen as strong on theory, but falling behind in applying it to business and technology. Most young people thought British universities were attractive places to study the humanities and social sciences, but rated them significantly behind the US, Japan and Germany in science and technology.
The report says that US universities are seen as doing a better job in looking after their students and are "more lively places to be".
As well as being thought to gear teaching to the needs of industry, US lecturers were perceived to be "more approachable and would make time for their students, whereas the fashion in Britain was to get through the material and then leave", the report adds.
British science and technology was well respected but seen as lagging behind key competitors because of low awareness about recent advances and a perception that Britishscientists are slow to grasp commercial applications.
On innovation, the report says: "What is holding our reputation back is not so much the quality of our research, but our perceived lack of interest in translating it into commercial applications."