Kannur University was established by the Act 22 of 1996 of Kerala Legislative Assembly. The University by the name "Malabar University" had come into existence earlier by the promulgation of an Ordinance by the Governor of Kerala, on 9th November 1995. The University was inaugurated on 2nd March 1996 by the former Hon. 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, promoting the development of higher education in Kasargod and Kannur revenue districts and the Mananthavady Taluk of Wayanad District.
Kannur University is unique in the sense that it is a multi-campus university with campuses spread over at 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 as are necessary for providing study and research facilities to promote advanced knowledge in Science and Technology and other relevant disciplines.