It was established in 1972 as the National Institute for Higher Education, Limerick and became a university by statute in 1989 in accordance with the University of Limerick Act 1989. The university was the first university established since the foundation of the State in 1922, followed later the same day by the establishment of Dublin City University.
The university is located along the River Shannon, on a 80 hectares (200 acres) site in the 240 hectares (590 acres) National Technological Park at Castletroy, 5 km from Limerick city centre. The university has currently in excess of 11,000 full-time undergraduate students and 1,500 part-time students. There are also over 800 research postgraduates and 1,300 taught postgraduate students at the university.
The Co-operative Education (commonly called Co-Op) programme allocates all students with an 8-month work placement as part of their degree. This was the first such programmes in the state.