The end of the Second World War in 1945 started the process of decolonisation worldwide. Seventeen years later, Western Samoa became the first Pacific Island nation to gain independence. Nation building required more access to post-secondary training than had already been made available in the home countries by the former colonial masters. Against this backdrop, the University of the South Pacific was established in 1968 to cater for the needs of the South Pacific region. However, along with the wave of decolonisation came the realisation among some of the Pacific Island countries that in order to be true to the democratic principle of self-determination, each country must have its own institution of higher learning. It would be the function of such institutions to cater for the identified needs of their respective countries.

Western Samoa was among the first Pacific Island countries to entertain that dream. The idea had been around since independence in 1962. It was given more meaning following the establishment of the University of the South Pacific and especially with the setting up of its Regional College of Tropical Agriculture in Samoa at Alafua. It was another two decades before Western Samoa tried to make her dream a reality. In April 1983, Cabinet revisited the issue of the manpower needs of the country and the problems faced by Samoan students undertaking tertiary training overseas. The outcome of that Cabinet meeting was an agreement in principle to set up a Samoan University. Thereafter the Minister of Education was tasked to convene a Committee to explore and recommend to Cabinet options for the implementation of Cabinet’s decision. In mid-June 1983, Cabinet approved the ministerial paper which set out the basic thinking, philosophy and issues associated with the proposed University. The ministerial paper was referred to the committee for detailed work and the Minister of Education approved the broad framework for the establishment of the national university in late June. The recommendations were accepted by Cabinet and the National University of Samoa was established in 1984 by an Act of Parliament. A new Act in 1997 made changes to the number of overseas members on the University Council and replaced them with local members appointed by the Head of State upon advice of Cabinet.

From its humble beginnings in 1984 (45 students in the only class, the University Preparatory Year), the National University of Samoa has developed in leaps and bounds. Its first degree, the Bachelor of Education, a one-off programme, was launched in 1987. A year later, the Bachelor of Arts programme was taught. The first graduates in both programmes were awarded their degrees in the 1990 graduation ceremony. Shortly thereafter the existing business-related night classes administered by the Samoa Society of Accountants came under the umbrella of the University. Later it became the
Faculty of Commerce. The Faculty of Science was also established. The existing School of Nursing of the National Health Department amalgamated with the university in 1993 as the Faculty of Nursing.

The Western Samoa Teachers’ College amalgamated with the University in 1997 as the Faculty of Education and in the same year, the University moved from the compound at Malifa to its new Le Papaigalagala campus at Vaivase, which was constructed with grant assistance from the government of Japan. The Institute of Samoan Studies was established in 1999 after years of planning. Thus the National University of Samoa, situated in its new campus comprised not only the UPY programme, but five fully fledged faculties and the Institute of Samoan Studies. All faculties offered courses towards Bachelor’s degrees in their respective disciplines. The University Preparatory Year programme became the Foundation Year, with streams offered by the five faculties as well as a general programme.

On 8 March 2006 the National University of Samoa and the Samoa Polytechnic were merged into the newly constituted National University of Samoa. This was the culmination of merger plans for tertiary education which were enunciated by the Government of Samoa in 2001. Samoa Polytechnic was established in 1993 by an Act of the Fono as the successor to the Western Samoa Trade School, incorporating the Maritime Training School. It offered certificate and diploma programmes through the Schools of Business and General Studies, Engineering and Maritime Training.

The new NUS Act 2006 came into force on 01 June 2006 and on 10 November of the same year, the Government of Japan officially handed over to the Government of Samoa the newly completed Institute of Technology campus, which formed part of the JICA project for the upgrading and extension of the former Samoa Polytechnic. The new NUS made up of the Institute of Technology, the Institute of Higher Education, the Centre for Samoan Studies and the Oloamanu Centre for Professional Development and Continuing Education, provided over sixty academic, vocational and professional programmes including the Master of Samoan Studies. In March 2011 the Council approved the integration of the Institute of Technology and Institute of Higher Education under a unified Faculty system. Despite the teeting problems associated with change, the integration initiative was successfully completed in FY 2013/2014. Given the locations of the former Institute of Higher Education and former Institute of Technology respectively in the NUS Campus, the teaching of the majority of TVET and service oriented programmes continue to take place on the “oceanside” while academic oriented programmes and courses are taught in the buildings located on the “mountainside” of the NUS Campus.

On 6 February 2014, the NUS Council approved the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine under the National University of Samoa. This was in accordance with a Cabinet Directive for the establishment of a Faculty of Medicine under NUS to support the acute shortage of medical physicians in Samoa. The University is excited about this landmark development for Samoa and will continue to work with reputable international medical schools, physicians, academics and stakeholders to offer an appropriate and rigorous medical curriculum of international standards to meet the health needs of Samoa and the Pacific.