Some 3,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) students have enrolled with 11 institutions 10 years on from the initial conference in Skye which raised the prospect of a dispersed university involving partner colleges across more than half the Scottish landmass.
More than a year ago, the UHI was granted higher education institution status by the Scottish Executive, a precursor of the full status campaigners hope to achieve within four years. Enrolments are said to be only one of the guidelines for institutional recognition.
Bob Cormack, UHI director and chief executive, said: "We passionately believe, however, that the date of achievement is not as important as delivering a university worthy of the name which meets all the aspirations of the people of the Highlands and Islands. This is the real core of our mission."
Jim Hunter, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "The creation of a new university is the single most important project currently under way. One thing which all successful economic regions have in common is the presence of a university, delivering learning, undertaking research and producing spin-off businesses."
The strategic plan stresses that the new university will be a "real rather than a virtual institution" and an "innovative tertiary institution". Many learners are mature students with no family tradition of post-16 education.
There are plans to widen access further through community-based learning centres.