The idea of establishing a university in Penang was first proposed by DS Ramanathan in the state assembly in 1959, and it was later reflected when he was nominated as the chairman of the Penang University Project Committee. Then, the foundation stone was laid at the ceremony hosted by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, and then a piece of land was acquired in Sungai Ara.
USM was established in 1969 as a statutory institution and the second university in Malaysia. It was originally called Penang University. The university was borrowed from Malayan Teachers' College in Gelugor. In 1971, it moved to the current 239-hectare site in Minden (formerly the Minden Barracks of the British Far East Command) in Gelugor, 10 kilometers away from Georgetown.
There are two other USM campuses: one in Kubang Geliang in Kelantan, known as the Healthy Campus, and the other in Sri Ampangan, and Nibong Tebal in Penang, known as the Engineering Campus. The former has the School of Medicine, the School of Health Sciences and the School of Dentistry, while the latter has six engineering schools.
Thain University of Malaysia teaches and conducts research in the fields of pure science, applied science, pharmacy, architectural science and technology, social science, humanities and education.
USM provides undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 28,000 students. USM won the Asia Innovation Award, of which USM became the only winner in the country.