Durham, Edinburgh and Manchester universities are seeking "the best of the best" for 39 masters and doctoral studentships to study the Arab world.
The universities aim to create an elite group of researchers who will play a key role in the UK's future relations with the Arab world in academia, business, diplomacy and other areas.
The three universities will create a National Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World. The project will be backed by £5 million from the English and Scottish Funding Councils, and the Arts and Humanities and Economic and Social Research councils.
The centre is also expected to develop research opportunities for early-career fellows.
The 20 fully funded masters and 19 PhD studentships are expected to be advertised after Christmas.
Courses will be tailor-made, and will depend on students' existing expertise. Those with no Arabic, for example, will receive a year's language training.
The students will also gain research training skills. Although they will be based at a home university, all of them will come together periodically for training sessions and lectures.
The centre's co-director is Emma Murphy, of Durham University's School of Government and Islamic Affairs. She told The Times Higher : "We recognise that this is an intensive programme and very demanding. We want to make sure that what we're getting are the most promising young scholars."