Perth needs to create centres of international research excellence so it can attract some of the brightest minds to live and work in WA, educators say.
With the city's population expected to hit 3.5 million within 40 years, business-backed think tank Committee for Perth said in its recent report Towards a Bright Future that WA should invest in higher education to boost "human capital", attract talent and overcome skills shortages.
It also said the State Government had to work on developing infrastructure, such as light rail connections, to turn Perth's universities into vibrant community centres.
Mike Ryan, executive director of Perth Education City, a non-profit group that markets WA to international students, said the State needed to decide what Perth should be known for 25 years from now, apart from the mining industry.
He said creating research hubs would help attract talented international students wanting to complete PhDs or masters in research.
"This is a global phenomenon and there is jockeying in every city in the world for greater funding for research," he said.
The number of international students studying in the State for a PhD had trebled from 375 to 1130 in the past eight years.
University of WA vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said WA needed to build skills in value-added sectors such as technology.
He hoped that light rail would run from the new sports stadium at Burswood, through the city centre, then out to the University of WA and Queen Elizabeth II hospital campus.
Curtin University vice-president of corporate services Ian Callahan said isolated suburban universities could no longer "cut the mustard" in an international context.
It plans to build "Curtin City" on its Bentley campus within 20 years, combining commercial, residential and educational facilities for thousands of people.