PAU grew out of a dream for a tertiary institution in the South Pacific to meet the needs of the growing Seventh-day Adventist church organisation. Further, many young people wanted to pursue degrees in a Christian environment.

In 1981 the present site of PAU was selected. The first academic year began in 1984 following the passage of the Pacific Adventist College Act by the Parliament of Papua New Guinea in 1983.

Pacific Adventist College was successful from the beginning in attracting highly motivated students and qualified staff. Graduates were recognised throughout the Pacific region. Education graduates became government-registered teachers in many Pacific countries. An important step forward came when the passage of the Pacific Adventist University Act 1997 turned the college into Pacific Adventist University on 11 December 1997. The act recognised that PAU had its own philosophy and its focus included all South Pacific countries. Many nations now sponsor students to PAU and several International Aid Agencies support students at the University. Graduates of PAU are employed by the church, government and private industry across the Pacific region.