Universities have launched a fresh campaign to target some of the world's emerging nations for new student recruitment markets and research collaborations.

Under a groundbreaking joint initiative, institutions will seek to promote the distinctive qualities of Scottish universities to Brazil, China, Malaysia, Mexico and Colombia.

The move comes after recent research warned that universities north of the border were not seen as having their own separate identity overseas.

Under the banner of Connected Scotland, the new collaboration between universities will also involve enterprise companies, the Scottish Government, British Council Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

The group will promote the sector worldwide as a place to do business, to work and to study and has also set an ambitious target of increasing the sector's export revenue by more than 50 per cent in six years.

Scotland's university sector has already been acknowledged as an industry sector in its own right, with annual exports totalling £1.3 billion in 2011/12 - 60 per cent of which is from outside the UK.

However, while recognising that Scotland's real competitors are universities throughout the rest of the world, the collaboration will still allow institutions to compete with each other where necessary for students, research money or academics.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, welcomed the initiative as a "fantastic new partnership".

He said: "Scotland's higher education institutes are already internationally recognised and they are increasingly collaborating to harness global opportunities and to promote our exceptional higher education assets overseas.

"Connected Scotland will enhance the internationalisation of Scottish higher education and connect us to new opportunities around the world."

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, convener of Universities Scotland's international committee, said internationalisation brought huge benefits to staff and students.

He said: "We have a strong culture of collaboration within the sector, even reaching into areas in which we compete, but a more connected approach builds on this, enabling us to achieve more and cultivate a strong international presence."

Lloyd Anderson, director of British Council Scotland, added: "While Scotland already has a remarkably joined-up and collaborative higher education sector, it makes great sense to work collaboratively in exploring new, emerging overseas markets.

"Connected Scotland is an important initiative that will benefit Scotland through enhanced exchange of knowledge, ideas and people, leading to stronger and better international connections."

Research earlier this year by British Council Scotland found there was poor international awareness of what Scottish higher education had to offer, such as its strong showing in global league tables.

While Scottish universities have achieved some success in the recruitment of overseas students, it said countries where enrolments remain relatively low include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Turkey.

It concluded: "There was a general lack of knowledge about Scottish higher education, the Scottish distinctive identity, the differences in higher education provision in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK and the sector's comparative advantages."