Scottish universities could make joint bids to the next research assessment exercise, under radical plans for collaborative centres for advanced research.
Ministers north of the border have distanced themselves from English moves towards greater research selectivity and believe all higher education institutions should carry out research.
The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is considering plans to pool resources for research into physics, economics, life sciences and the creative arts.
A Shefc spokesperson said: "The council's view is that pooling resources would create a critical mass of international competitive researchers in broad discipline areas."
Tim O'Shea, principal of Edinburgh University, said: "We can't prejudge because we don't know what the rules will be for the next RAE, but it's perfectly possible there would be joint or coordinated submissions."
It was "not inconceivable" that there could be more than 100 such submissions, he said. It was still to be worked out how many institutions would be involved, but people wanted to see as inclusive an approach as possible.
"This is a dialogue that involves individual universities, Universities Scotland, Shefc and the Scottish Executive and there is a lot of very valuable cross-talk," Professor O'Shea said.
"The goodwill behind this and the potential make me feel very optimistic for (Scotland's) research capability."
Jim Wallace, Scotland's enterprise and lifelong learning minister, said he was very interested by the proposals being worked on by Shefc.
"Our higher education review fully supports such collaborations, and we have recommended that the new research assessment method being developed at a UK level should place joint submissions from such collaborations on an equal footing with those from single institutions," he said.
Mr Wallace told a recent Universities Scotland conference that the challenge for the sector was to collaborate across institutional barriers, disciplines and international boundaries.
Bill Stevely, convener of Universities Scotland and principal of the Robert Gordon University, said Scotland's size gave it an advantage in building networks among world-class researchers in different institutions.
He said: "This is not just a woolly commitment to 'partnership'. We are talking about something radical and new, a hybrid between the American model of selectivity and concentration and the European model of breadth and equity, a model of inclusive excellence."