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The world-wide popularity of university rankings has spurred the debate about the quality and performance of higher education systems and has had a considerable impact on global society in light of the internationalisation of higher education. While useful for policy makers, such rankings also furnish information on an institution's "prestige", which may in turn contribute to more effective resource capture (students, funding, projects). Certain university profiles and missions may prevent many universities from climbing to higher positions, however. One important question in this regard is: how many of a country's universities can stand at the top of international rankings? The present article attempts to answer this question on the grounds of a study of the Spanish higher education system, and more specifically of an institutional alliance consisting of four high quality universities. A series of research activity indicators drawn from the IUNE Observatory are used to compare this alliance to leading Spanish and international universities and explore whether their visibility and consequently their position in international rankings would be enhanced if they were able to appear under a joint identity. This prospective study also addresses a series of strategies that the Spanish higher education system might implement to successfully rise to the challenges posed by future scenarios.