Aberdeen and Robert Gordon universities are the latest Scottish duo to begin collaboration talks, and they have not ruled out the prospect of a merger.
The move follows the development of close links between Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, and Dundee and St Andrews universities, although in those cases, the partners have said they are not contemplating merger.
Bill Stevely, principal of RGU, said: "At the moment, we are talking and nothing has been decided. I can't rule merger out. We are going at this with an open mind. We feel that there are some areas where we possibly compete when we shouldn't."
Steve Logan, Aberdeen's provost of medicine and medical sciences, said the best way forward would be determined by a "high-level analysis" being undertaken with £160,000 support from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. An initial report is expected by the end of the academic year.
A Shefc spokesperson said: "We support collaboration of all kinds - from strategic alliances to joint courses and departments - in Scottish higher education institutions where this is to the benefit of Scotland. Mergers and other collaborations are initiated by the institutions concerned, not the council. The final decision on whether a merger goes ahead lies with the Scottish Executive."
Professor Logan stressed that collaboration must be bottom up rather than top down and said that two key areas would be health and engineering. Aberdeen has a medical school. RGU has a faculty of health and social care, including a school of nursing.
"The way healthcare is delivered requires professionals from different backgrounds to work together. We want to try to introduce some of that kind of team-working before students graduate," Professor Logan said.
The institutions believe collaboration also has potential benefits for management in areas such as purchasing of systems and services.