The university can trace its roots to the founding of the Newport Mechanics’ Institute in 1841. The Newport Mechanics’ Institute later become the University of Wales, Newport. In 1913 the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines was formed. The school of mines was later to become the Polytechnic of Wales, before gaining the status of University of Glamorgan in 1992. The name for the new merged university was chosen following a research exercise amongst interested parties and announced in December 2012 by the prospective vice-chancellor of the university, Julie Lydon.
At formation it was reported that the university had more than 33,500 students from 122 countries and was then the sixth largest in the United Kingdom and the largest in Wales. However the Office of the Independent Adjudicator stated that, in 2013, the number of students was 29,875. The Higher Education Statistics Agency reported student total numbers of 27,710 for the 2014/15 academic year.