NTEU was formed in 1993 by the amalgamation of five tertiary education unions:
- Federated Australian University Staff Association (FAUSA), which represented mainly academic staff in the traditional university sector.
- Union of Australian College Academics (UACA), which represented mainly academic staff in the Colleges of Advanced Education, following that membership base into the university sector as institutions amalgamated or changed their status.
- Australian Colleges and Universities Staff Association (ACUSA), which represented general staff in higher education, TAFE, Adult Education and student unions, mainly in Victoria.
- University of Adelaide General Staff Association (UAGSA), which represented general staff at the University of Adelaide.
- Australian National University Administrative and Allied Officers’ Association (ANUAAOA) which represented middle-level and senior administrative staff at the ANU.
These organisations all saw benefits in forming a single, stronger union for the whole tertiary education industry. NTEU provided a united voice for tertiary education workers, without the old, arbitrary divisions between different parts of the industry or different categories of workers. The amalgamation was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of members of each of the five unions. The new organisation draws on the strengths and experience of its predecessors , creating a union with strong focus and expertise on the tertiary education industry.
Today, NTEU has members organised in Universities, TAFE colleges, Research Institutes, Adult Education providers, Student organisations, University and College Companies and commercial arms, and independent post-secondary education providers.