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.