Birmingham's role as one of the country's leading university cities is crucial to its future prosperity and status as a manufacturing centre, the West Midlands Minister has warned.
Liam Byrne's comments came as the man in charge of higher education in Britain also warned that the future lies in cities that "generate knowledge".
Birmingham is considered a powerhouse of higher education and a major campaign is to be launched in the New Year to rebrand it as a university city.
Mr Byrne said a shift in Britain's economic base meant education was set to be one of the country's biggest exports and it was vital the West Midlands played to its strengths.
"It is crucial," said the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill. "Higher education is worth £12.5 billion. In a decade's time, education may be one of the most important exports for Britain. We need to make sure the extremely good universities we have in our region are leading the change.
"After graduates come and stay here, they will go home but remain our friends for ever. It is these relationships that will be key to the future."
Mr Bryne added whereas links in the last century were based on trade, in the 21st century they were increasingly based on people and the exchange of knowledge.
John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, also stressed the growing importance of university and learning centres to the national economy.
He told The Post: "The future lies with the countries and the cities that can generate knowledge and do scholarship and then apply it to the economy to develop the best products.
"In the future the innovation will go to the places that can say 'we have a community of researchers and teachers and people who know how to take that knowledge and turn it into practical abilities'.
"Cities that present themselves as centres of knowledge and higher and further education are going to be the places that attract the innovation in the future."
Over the last 20 years, Birmingham has shifted from a manufacturing centre to a commercial, service-sector led hub.
But Mr Denham said it was a fallacy to believe that a knowledge-led economic base was distinct from manufacturing.
"Sometimes there is a confusion that in the old days we used to make things, now we do knowledge," he said. "That is wrong. You need knowledge to do advanced manufacturing.
"The West Midlands has traditionally been a centre of manufacturing. This is about recognising if we want to be a manufacturing nation we have to do it in the complex, high value-added areas of manufacturing. Not in the low value areas that are about low skills and putting things together."
Earlier this month The Birmingham Post revealed that plans to rebrand Birmingham as a university city to rival the great academic centres of the world are to be launched in the New Year.
Led by Marketing Birmingham, whose job is to promote the city's image the drive is backed by the area's three universities and the local authority.
Earlier this year respected urban planner Professor Michael Parkinson claimed Birmingham was not perceived as a university hub.
Gary Hughes, area convenor for the National Union of Students, said the city council needed to do more to promote Birmingham's higher education credentials.