The report by Universities Scotland, entitled Grow Export Attract Support, indicates that higher education plays a role in close to half of all foreign direct investments (FDI).
An analysis of investors' motives, completed by the Financial Times' fDi Intelligence, shows universities have a three-fold impact - as producers of a highly-skilled talent pool, as a source of research, and as a key player in the creation of industry clusters.
Scotland already performs strongly in competition for FDI, with GlaxoSmithKline, ResHydro, Molnlycke and Fujitsu, among others, investing in Scottish projects while citing universities as a determining factor.
Universities have already been recognised by the Scottish Government as an economic sector in their own right, generating £6.7 billion for the Scottish economy in 2011/12.
Universities also have a significant export role worth £1.3 billion to the economy.
Professor Steve Chapman, principal of Heriot-Watt University said: "Universities have been recognised as an agent of economic growth for some time, contributing £6.7bn in gross value added to Scotland.
"What is most significant about this new report is that it uncovers the role universities have in helping to drive economic growth outside their sector, making Scotland a competitive place for foreign direct investment. This creates jobs at all levels throughout Scotland."