UEA admitted its first students in 1963 in temporary accommodation in Earlham Hall, on the western edge of the city of Norwich about 3 miles from the city centre, while a prefabricated "University Village" was built nearby and used until the early 1980s. The permanent campus was built on the adjacent Earlham Golf Course, principally to a design by Sir Denys Lasdun. While the design of the campus is rather bleak 1960s concrete ("Concrete" being the name of the weekly student newspaper founded in the early 1970s, and resurrected in the early 1992 as a fortnightly tabloid), and can be rather uninviting in winter when cold winds can blow with little interruption from the Urals.
UEA campus exhibits some interesting architectural features: the main teaching building takes the form of a continuous wall running approximately west-east. The early student residences built in the 1960s take the form of distinctive "ziggurats", but financial cutbacks by the early 1970s meant that the full original plan for building ziggurat residences had to be abandoned, and replaced by the less inspiring north-south wall of Waveney Terrace. UEA also took over the former RAF/US Air Force barracks at Horsham St. Faith airfield, and used them as residences. This outpost of campus life was known as "Fifers Lane" from the road it stood on, and developed its own unique style of student life. Fifers Lane eventually closed in 1993, when further residences, again in an advanced architectural style, were built on campus.
In the mid-1970s, extraction of gravel in the valley of the River Yare, which runs to the south of the campus, resulted in the university acquiring its own 'Norfolk Broad' or lake. At more or less the same time, a bequest of tribal art from the Sainsbury supermarket family resulted in the construction of the striking Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts at the western end of the main teaching wall, one of the first major works of architect Norman Foster. Recently the campus has gained an extensive new sports facility and a purpose-built theatre.
Other notable features of the UEA campus are The Square, a central outdoor meeting place with many concrete steps on which to sit, The Bowl, a rather dated but very popular glass-fronted coffee shop, and The Street, the ever popular row of shops, banks and other services. The Street also contains The Pub - the main campus bar - which was recently extended to takeover Breakers, a rather low-rent eatery with a scrapyard theme which was briefly turned into an unpopular pasta place. Other bars include The Hive, and the Graduate Students Club. In the same building is the large common room (LCR), which is home to the notorious weekly campus discos, as well as the many touring gigs. The students union also run The Waterfront venue off campus in Norwich's King Street.
UEA has had notable successes in terms of courses taught. Malcolm Bradbury for many years taught in the School of English and American Studies, the Climate Research Unit in the School of Environmental Sciences was an early centre of work on climate warming.
The student population in 2003 is claimed to be 9000 undergraduates and 4000 postgraduates. Approximately 1000 students originate from outside the European Union.