The Australian National University, University of Canberra and Australian Catholic University have all posted record high student numbers this year - cementing Canberra's ''university town'' tag.
All three universities have broken previous enrolment counts this semester as part of strategic growth plans which take advantage of full deregulation of university places.
But while intakes are at historic highs, both the UC and ANU have suffered last-minute reductions in overseas students which they attribute to visa restrictions as well as student nervousness about the high Australian dollar.
UC vice-chancellor Stephen Parker suggested that Australian higher education may even be pricing itself out of the market given increasing international competition for lucrative full fee-paying overseas students.
For the first time this year, the Federal Government has removed all previous enrolment caps in line with recommendations from the 2009 Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education - which calls for massive increases in the number of Australians achieving a degree.
According to internal census data across the ANU, UC and ACU, all three have broken previous ceilings on enrolments. The University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy is still subject to Defence caps on places.
The ANU has recorded a 4 per cent increase in students this year, taking total enrolments to 17,766. ANU vice-chancellor Ian Young said, ''Yes, this is the biggest we have ever been and is slightly ahead of where we wanted our overall increase to fall, at 3 per cent.''
While commencing domestic students this year have risen 15 per cent to 4379, up from 3822 last year, international commencements this year dropped by 4 per cent on last year - to 1540 from 1611.
At UC, overall student numbers this year have reached 13,481, up by just over 4 per cent compared with 12,956 last year. Overall international students are down by 1.5 per cent, to 2511 from 2549 last year.
Professor Parker said this meant the UC had exactly doubled in size in the five years he had been vice-chancellor, ''growing by 40 per cent in undergraduates and 86 per cent in international students''.
But the UC had also turned away students to accept 5 per cent fewer commencements than last year - 3910 compared with 4128.
Both the UC and ANU received increased international student acceptances for places this year on last, but students had failed to take up those places.
Both vice-chancellors said they expected this was the result of students waiting until legislation streamlining visa processing comes into effect from today and both expect to see substantial jumps in those figures in semester two.
''These students have already paid a semester's fees, so … we expect to see them next semester,'' Professor Parker said.
Professor Young said the ANU was particularly pleased with a 20 per cent increase in domestic postgraduate places - many of which he said were ACT public servants seeking to upgrade their university qualifications.
Professor Parker said the UC would seek to stabilise, and perhaps contract slightly, next year as it focussed on raising Australian Tertiary Admission Rank cut-offs.
''We needed to grow substantially and make ourselves strong and viable. We've done that, but now we need to catch up with ourselves.''
Meanwhile, at the Signadou Campus of the ACU, student numbers have risen by 15 per cent, with a 45 per cent increase in applications for places this year on last.
ACU now has just under 900 students at its Watson campus.
Vice-chancellor Greg Craven said, ''Next year we become the largest English-speaking Catholic university in the world - which will really annoy the Americans and really delight us''.
He said future growth would need to be far less dramatic but the ACU was moving away from relying on ATARS. Professor Craven said there was growing evidence they weren't a reliable indicator of a student's suitability for study.