Founded in 1925 as a memorial to Newfoundland's war dead, Memorial University College was elevated to degree-granting status in 1949. When Newfoundland became a province of Canada that year, one of the first legislative actions of the new government was to pass An Act Respecting the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The Act specifies the role, responsibilities, structure and other governance and administrative aspects of the province’s only university.

Today about 19,000 students are enrolled in Memorial’s undergraduate, graduate and professional programs which span a wide range of disciplines. Memorial is committed to student-centred and experiential learning in multiple modes and settings. The university has key locations are in St. John's and Corner Brook in Newfoundland, Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador, and Harlow in England and offers extensive on-line courses and programs.

With a bicameral system of governance like many Canadian universities, Memorial University has a Senate that oversees academic affairs and a Board of Regents that oversees all other matters. The institutional leader is the president and vice-chancellor, who is supported by the university’s administrative leadership.