Alberto Rodriguez, lead education specialist for the bank, made the remarks in a debate at the European Association for International Education's annual conference, this year held in Copenhagen, on how Europe can keep pace with the growing university systems of China, Brazil and the Middle East.
Dr Rodriguez said that many universities needed to adapt to a new landscape of diminished resources and suggested that they could import good practices from Latin America, Southeast Asia and even the Caribbean, where some institutions have flourished despite low levels of state investment.
"Europe is looking into Europe to find solutions for its problems," he told delegates at the event last week. "Emerging countries have been dealing with scarce resources for a long time and know how to do it."
He added: "(Education) policies are not taking advantage of developing countries' models. I could (cite) Asia, India or even Africa, where South Africa has developed some really interesting strategies."
Entry and exit tests for students at Brazilian universities were a useful method of demonstrating the "value added" by institutions and could be replicated by the European sector, he said.
"There are some studies that show students are not learning a lot on undergraduate courses. That is why we need...high-quality quality assurance systems," Dr Rodriguez said. Allocating tax breaks to for-profit institutions in exchange for places on science and engineering courses was another Brazilian policy that could be copied, he added.
The centralised administration system used by the University of the West Indies, which operates across several Caribbean islands, could also be emulated to cut costs, he said.
The World Bank has invested £1.1 billion in education in 2011 and manages a portfolio in this area worth £7.1 billion across 89 countries, with a focus on lifting people out of poverty.
But Robert Wagenaar, director of studies at the University of Groningen's Faculty of Arts, rejected the idea that the European higher education model was broken.
Instead, he said that higher education institutions from emerging nations were looking to Europe, not North America, for inspiration as they sought to promote excellence and climb the world league tables.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, he said: "Social inclusion is so important in Europe, but is something that the US does not really have.
"The European agenda, therefore, fits better for Latin America, where they are trying to lift lots of people out of poverty."
He added: "Some countries in Latin America are doing well, such as Brazil and Colombia, where we have exported our model of higher education and they have refined it. But other countries have a long way to go."
Adopting Latin American practices to promote efficiency would not necessarily benefit Europe, Dr Wagenaar said.
"It's not just about money," he added. "It's a question of how you order your higher education system to achieve your country's goals."