The predecessor of the university, King Edward VII College of Medicine, was established on 28 September 1905 in Singapore, then a territory of the British Empire. In October 1949, the merger of the King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College created the university. Rapid growth during its first decade caused the university to organize as two autonomous divisions on 15 January 1959, one located in Singapore (later as the National University of Singapore)and the other in Kuala Lumpur (later as the University of Malaya).

Today, UM has more than 2,300 faculty members and is divided into thirteen faculties, two academies, five institutes and six academic centres. The University of Malaya also has its own radio station, UMalaya Radio which is under the auspices of its Student & Alumni Affairs Division.

The university houses 13 residential colleges (11 in-campus, 2 off-campus), an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the Rimba Ilmu Botanical Gardens, the UM Arena which boasts a full course running track, several museums of different fields as well as numerous sports facilities (gymnasiums, courts and fields) in the campus. 

University of Malaya has been ranked consistently as the No. 1 university in Malaysia and among the top 3 universities in Southeast Asia, as well as among the top 400 universities in the world according to reputed ranking publisher such as QSARWUU.S. News & World Report in the recent few years. In 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked University of Malaya 17th and 87th in the world in Engineering and Computer Science respectively by its subject ranking.

In the most recent rankings, the school is ranked 70th worldwide and 8th in Asia by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). On the Edurank site, the school is ranked 71st in Asia and 397th in the world for Petrology and Geochemistry and 9th in the world for Renewable Energy Engineering.

According to Wikipedia and