The university was established in 1981 through Law No. 4 passed by the Imo State House of Assembly, Owerri. This was amended by Edict 27 of 1985, another in 1986 and finally for the relocation by the Law No. 2 of 1992. Academic activities commenced at the temporary site located at the former Madonna High School, Ihitte, with Professor M. J. C. Echeruo as its First Vice-Chancellor. The decision to establish a State University arose when the absence of a Federal University was greatly left by the people of Imo State whose major industry is education. The State had so many qualified candidates who could not be admitted by the existing Universities.
The Government of Imo State under Chief Sam Mbakwe sought for and obtained the approval of the Federal Government for the establishment of Imo State University as a Liberal Studies tertiary institution in the State.
Initially the University was designed as a Multi-Campus Structure with one College to be located in each Senatorial District of the then Imo State with its main campus located at Etiti in the Okigwe Senatorial Zone while the Aba Campus, in Aba Zone, housed the College of Business and Legal Studies. The Multi-Campus structure was phased out because of logistics. They University was then relocated to Okigwe in one Campus.
The creation of Abia State in 1992 automatically meant that geographically the permanent site/campus of IMSU at Uturu Okigwe fell under Abia State's boundary. This led to the urgent establishment of Imo State University Owerri by Governor Evan Enwerem and eventual mandate and relocation of Federal University of Owerri (FUTO) from IMSU's present day Lake Nwaebere Campus to FUTO's present day Ihiagwa Campus.
Imo State University at Owerri was temporary accommodated within the campus of Alvan Ikoku College of Education from May to December 1992. The University later moved to its own premises of four building within the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, at the Lake Nwaebere Campus. All the translocation of the Federal University to the permanent site, Ihiagwa near Owerri, the Lake Nwaebere Campus of that university was then acquired for Imo State University. The first batch of students was allocated to the Imo State University by JAMB in February 1993. The National Universities Commission also formally approved the re-establishment of the University in 1992 at the Lake Nwaebere Campus.
Consequently, the government of Chief Evan Enwerem, in April, 1991 did not waste time in filling the vacuum by re-establishing the University in Owerri. Two options were considered by the government in the re-establishment of Imo State University at Owerri. The first option was to move at once, all staff and students at the various stages of their programmes in Uturu who want to remain in Imo State University, now in Owerri. The second option was to rebuild the University at Owerri over specified period of time. The second option was adopted after various constitutions by government then, and a target period of 5 years within which to complete re-establishment of the University at Owerri was considered. Professor T. O. C. Ndubizu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was then appointed the Vice-Chancellor with the enormous responsibility of relocating and re-establishing Imo State University.
The academic programmes of the University were initially organized in Colleges and Schools. However, as one of the strategies adopted by the next Vice-Chancellor, Prof. A. G. Anwukah, and the University senate to energize the system for improved productivity, the unwieldy collegiate system was replaced by the new faculty structure at the beginning of the 2001/2002 academic session. This is in line with the law establishing Imo State University. The transition gave rise to eight faculties and forty-five departments, with only the College of Medicine and Health Sciences retaining its original status. Currently, the University has 11 Faculties and offering series of postgraduate and undergraduate courses.
For the undergraduate programmes, 24 courses were stated in the first year of the University’s re-location at Owerri, 1992/93. By 2001/2002 session, about sixty-three degree programmes were available for study. Today in the 2014/2015 the University has eleven faculties and 63 departments.
In 1995, the post-graduate studies programme of the University was inaugurated. The School of Post-Graduate Studies admits candidates for Post-graduate diplomas and higher degrees that cut across the ten academic faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Humanities, Law, Science and Social Sciences, as well as Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Health Sciences in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Full information on the programmes of the School of Post-Graduate Studies is available in the prospectus of Imo State University, school of Post-Graduate Studies. Click to download.
In addition to its regular, full time and part-time programmes, the University caters for the educational needs of the various segments of the Nigerian public through its Sandwich Programme, Institute for Continuing Education Programme (ICEP) and Outreach and Consultancy Services (OCS) Programmes.
With an initial take-off student population of 420 in the 1992/93 session, the population of students has grown steadily. The number of students undertaking various diploma and degree programmes of the University programs is over fifteen thousand.
The University graduated its first batch of students in the 1996/1997 session. In April 2002, the 4th convocation ceremony of the relocated and now re-invigorated Imo State University took place during which 2,309 and 871 graduates were admitted into various degree and post-graduate diploma/degrees, respectively. The University is now one of the best Universities in Nigeria with highly qualitative academic programmes for the training and character formation of our leaders of tomorrow.
The result of the 1999/2000 accreditation exercise of the National Universities Commission confirmed that high rate and acceptance of the University by the Nigerian public. The University was ranked 1st among all State Universities in Nigeria and the 10th overall among both State and Federal Universities. The University scored 100% in 2006 and 2007 accreditation visit, with all programmes visited getting accreditation. All the 19 programmes visited in 2007 had been full accreditated. Also, in the first every accreditation visit of MBA programmes in 2006, Imo State University was among the universities that got accredited.
A new Information Communication Technology Center has been constructed and ready for use. Besides this also is a state of the art digital library has been commissioned. With all these development under the current leadership of Prof. Ukachukwu A. Awuzie fnia, the current substantive Vice Chancellor of the University, the University is poise to take its pride of place as one of the best State owned University in the country.