Universities Australia has welcomed the decision by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to link higher education, science and research with trade, competiveness, industry and innovation.

Under the Cabinet changes, the sector will be managed by a Cabinet Minister and two out ministers.

"These new ministerial arrangements underscore the central importance of higher education to Australia's efforts to lift trade, competitiveness, productivity and innovation in order to expand and transform the economy", Universities Australia's Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said.

Ms Robinson welcomed the new Ministers with responsibility for the higher education sector - Craig Emerson, Don Farrell, Sharon Bird - as well as Industry Minister, Greg Combet.

"The decision to link trade and competitiveness with higher education, science and research highlights the significance of the sector to Australia's future development, a point which has been made strongly in Universities Australia's political advocacy and new public higher education campaign", Ms Robinson said.

"The decision is also an important recognition of the economic value of international education - which at around $15 billion a year, is Australia's largest non-resource export earner.”