The British Council can help universities succeed in overseas ventures that are otherwise "replete with risks", thus boosting the research citation scores that are key to international academic competitiveness.
That was the view of Jo Beall, the British Council's director of education and society, speaking ahead of its Going Global 2012 conference.
The event is expected to attract 1,300 international delegates to London, including 500 vice-chancellors and pro vice-chancellors.
The British Council - at one stage floated as a candidate for closure in the coalition government's "bonfire of the quangos" - has had occasional difficulties with the UK higher education sector, which it promotes overseas as both a trade and a cultural export. In 2010, Martin Davidson, its chief executive, who had warned UKuniversities against seeing international students as "cash cows", received a dressing-down live on BBC Radio 4's Today programme from Colin Riordan, the vice-chancellor of the University of Essex.
Dr Beall highlighted the benefits of the British Council's work, saying that it could assist universities in "transnational education" - the provision of education outside institutions' home countries - which she described as a potentially problematic area.
The first universities to enter this field put in "huge investment without sufficient prior thinking and have burned their fingers", she said, adding that it was good that UKuniversities had been "few among those".
She said of transnational education's risks: "Quality would be a huge issue because you just need a couple of bad experiences for the whole [UK] sector to be affected."
Dr Beall added that such risks could be mitigated through the "introductions and brokering" that the British Council could do on institutions' behalf, as well as the legal advice and market intelligence it offered.
But she explained: "Just as much as there are risks...there are huge opportunities. If you just think about research and citations - which, let's face it, are the key indicators of quality in higher education - 46 per cent of UK-authored articles are co-authored with a non-UK researcher."
Citation counts were also "guaranteed to be much higher in internationally co-authored work than domestically authored papers", she said.
"It's not simply that international higher education is something we must do because we don't want to lose students: it's something we must do because we want to maintain our position as second in the world [in higher education]," she added.
Themes at Going Global 2012 will include the idea that "without a very different vision" for the future of higher education, "large parts of global society will be excluded from the benefits afforded to a highly educated and skilled population", the council said.