Created as the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin in 1975, it enrolled its first students in 1980 and was elevated to university status (along with the University of Limerick) in 1989 by statute.
The university currently has around 6,000 undergraduate students, over 600 research postgraduates, 1,800 taught postgraduate students and over 45,000 alumni. In addition the university has around 1,100 distance education (Oscail) students.
The University has been designated as a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U for its work in social innovation in higher education.
There were 440 academic staff in 2006. Notable members of the academic staff include former Taoiseach John Bruton and “thinking” Guru Edward De Bono. Bruton accepted a position as Adjunct Faculty Member in the School of Law and Government in early 2004 and De Bono accepted an adjunct Professorship in the university in mid-2005.