The Universiti Utara Malaysia was established on 16 February 1984 under the Universiti Utara Malaysia 1984 Order. The university was corporatised on 23 April 1998.
It is located in Sintok, Kedah. The university is also known as a management university. UUM is ranked 701 in the World University Rankings 2015/16.
The planning of the construction of the university began in August 1983 when the Ministry of Education began to plan the university. On 19 October 1983, the Cabinet gave its approval for this project in Kedah. At that time, the project was called "The Sixth University Project". Several months later, the temporary office of the sixth university, officially named Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), was officially opened on 15 February 1984 in Jitra.
Four months after its official opening, the UUM office was relocated to its provisional campus – the Darul Aman Campus – in Jitra, in June 1984, when the first phase of the project had been completed. The first academic year began in June 1984. The Darul Aman Campus was on a 62-acre tract of land in Bandar Darulaman. It was 18 km north of Alor Setar and 4.8 km from Jitra.
Meanwhile, the planning of a permanent campus for the university had begun. The permanent campus was to be built on an area of 1,061 hectares in Sintok (in the district of Kubang Pasu), situated 48 km north of Alor Setar and 10 km east of Changlun, a small town along the North-South Highway, near the Malaysia-Thai border.
The permanent UUM campus, referred to as the Sintok Campus, began operations on 15 September 1990. Situated in a former tin mining area, it is located in a valley of lush tropical forests, embraced by blue hills, and watered by two rivers that flow along the middle of the campus. The rivers are Sungai Sintok and Sungai Badak.