The University of Bedfordshire is based in Luton and Bedford, the two largest towns in the English county of Bedfordshire. The university was created by the merger of the University of Luton and the Bedford campus of De Montfort University on 1 August 2006 following approval by the Privy Council. The University of Luton purchased the De Montfort campus in Bedford for £15 million.

The University of Luton was a university based in Luton, the largest town in Bedfordshire. The institution was founded as the Modern School in the 1890s. It became Luton College of Higher Education with the merger of Luton College of Technology and Putteridge Bury College of Education in the mid-seventies. With the passing of the Further and Higher Education Act, 1992 it converted to university status in 1993. On the 15 December 2005, the University announced that it was taking over the Bedford campus of De Montfort University. With permission from the Privy Council, the preferred name of the University of Bedfordshire came into effect on 1 August 2006.

The campus at Bedford dates back to the Bedford Training College for Teachers which was founded in 1882 and Bedford Physical Training College founded in 1903. These merged with a further education college to become the Bedford College of Higher Education. In 1994 the higher education areas of the college merged with De Montfort University (based in Leicester). There are currently just under 3,000 students based in Bedford.

Putteridge Bury is a neo-Elizabethan country mansion located on the edge of Luton on the A505 road to Hitchin. The campus is situated in approximately thirty acres of landscaped gardens. Putteridge Bury can be traced back to Edward the Confessor's time and has links to the Domesday Book. The building was completed in 1911 and was designed by architects Sir Ernest George and Alfred Yeats in the style of Chequers, having had various redesigns and rebuilds over the years. The campus is home to the university's postgraduate business school as well as the university’s Conference Centre.

In 2004, Luton University's then high drop-out rate, and proposals to relax the consequences for students failing second-year exams, had led the Sunday Telegraph to ask "Is this the worst university in Britain?"[6] Luton's vice-chancellor responded by noting the challenges inherent in its mission as an access institution to offer the life-changing experience of higher education to people from families with little or no experience of university and for whom university is not an obvious destination after school; and drew attention to its teaching quality, which had been rated 14th out of 121 similar institutions the previous year by The Times.[7] However, The Sunday Times awarded the University of Luton the title of Best New University in 2004 (prior to the purchase of the Bedford campus and rebranding).[8]

The QAA conducted a thorough institutional audit of the University as a whole in 2005 (prior to the merger of the University), which resulted in the audit team’s questioning of the academic standards of its awards and its lack of confidence in the university's quality standards.However, after the audit was taken the QAA was provided with information that indicates that appropriate action was taken by the University in response to the findings of this report. As a result the audit was signed off in July 2007.
In 2007 the University of Bedfordshire was short-listed for the Times Higher Education Supplement's University of the Year 2007.
In 2008 Professor Les Ebdon said that he had accepted voluntary redundancy from 30 staff members. The university said that less than half were academic staff. Professor Ebdon said: "I don't know of any university in the East of England which isn't making some adjustment to staff numbers. Most of us have squeezed other expenditures as much as we can. Staffing is the area left where expenditure can be taken out, and it is the biggest cost." According to the same article "Relative to many other universities, Bedfordshire spends a low proportion of its income on staff."
Bedfordshire was ranked 71 of 114 British universities in The Times Good University Guide league table, released in June 2009,[13] 72 out of 113 in The Independent Complete University Guide,[14] and 88 out of 117 in The Guardian University Guide.The Guardian's league tables are compiled mainly on the basis of teaching data (staff/student ratio, job prospects, inclusiveness), and The Times's also include data on research ratings and the percentage of students who complete a degree.

The university has been criticised for its association with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, an unacredited and controversial organisation whose founder, Patrick Holford's advocacy of vitamin C as better than conventional drugs to treat AIDS was described as 'very scary' by the British Dietetic Association.
According to the THES in 2008 the university threatened legal action against a web site after one of its course was labelled "shocking" because of its staff-to-student ratio.