Peter Peacock, Education Minister, said: "Good quality research is a vital part of improving attainment and achievement in schools. The more information we have on effective educational practices, the more we can concentrate on what works and share good practice among schools and education authorities."
Pamela Munn, dean of education at Edinburgh University, which will link up with Stirling and Strathclyde universities to run the programme, welcomed the move as "an imaginative and very welcome response to the need to build educational research capacity in Scotland".
Glasgow University is a notable absentee from the venture, but Professor Munn said a priority would be to involve all the education faculties "so that we can embed capacity building across the system".
The five-year programme has three themes - the process of learning, school management and "schools and social capital", defined as exploiting the community's potential.