Kannur University was established by the Act 22 of 1996 of Kerala Legislative Assembly. The University had come into existence earlier by the name "Malabar University" on 9th November 1995 through the promulgation of an Ordinance by the Governor of Kerala. The University was inaugurated on 2nd March 1996 by the former Honourable Chief Minister of Kerala. The objective of the Kannur University Act 1996 is to establish in the state of Kerala a teaching, residential and affiliating University, with a view to promote the development of higher education in the revenue districts of Kasaragod, Kannur and the Mananthavady Taluk of Wayanad District.
Kannur University enjoys the unique distinction of being a multi-campus university with seven different campuses spread across various locations under its jurisdiction. The Act envisages that the University shall establish, maintain, manage, and develop campuses at Kannur, Kasaragod, Mananthavady, Payyannur, Thalassery, Kanhangad, and such other places necessary for providing study and research facilities to promote advanced knowledge in science, humanities and other relevant disciplines.