Seven in 10 students in Wales attend the five universities
Five universities are pledging to work together in an attempt to help drive the Welsh economy out of the recession.
Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Glamorgan and Swansea universities say closer co-operation will help Wales create a "innovative and dynamic economy".
The colleges estimate that they have a combined annual turnover of almost £1bn and do 95% of all research in Wales.
Education Minister Jane Hutt said the announcement reflected a determination to build on a world-class reputation.
Richard Davies, the vice-chancellor of Swansea University, said collaboration between the colleges could have an immediate impact on business.
"We have a huge range of innovation, research and development, and business skills within our universities and we can place some of these inspirational sorts of aid and help at the beck and call of companies," he said.
"In the recession we feel that we have a responsibility to use this massive talent that we have in the university base, and our students as well, to actually help companies come through these difficult times."
Between them, the five universities account for about 70% of students in higher education in Wales, with more than 50,000 undergraduates, and 13,000 postgraduate research posts.
"The idea is that we have to move as we come out of the recession into an economy where we create our wealth in Wales from our brains - more than our hands," added Mr Davies.
"There are other countries around the world that can do labour intensive work far more cheaply than we ever can. We've got to add value by the mental input."
The universities say they are now actively examining areas where they can work together strategically in Wales.
They have also pledged to drive forward their plans to continue investing in new building and college construction projects, using local suppliers and businesses where possible.
The assembly government's education minister, Jane Hutt added: "The Welsh Assembly Government is committed to partnership working and collaboration across the public sector.
"It therefore very much welcomes the Welsh universities announcement as a clear sign of the determination of those universities to work in partnership in order to ensure Wales develops its reputation as world class in research, innovation and development."