The Fachhochschule was founded on 1 January 2002, when the entire university education was disbanded in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Märkische Fachhochschule was combined with the Fachhochschulabschaltungen Meschede and Soest of the former Gesamthochschule Paderborn as an equal partner. The location of the Fachhochschule Südwestfalen was determined by Iserlohn.
The founding rector was Michael Teusner from 1 January 2002 to 31 August 2004. From 1 September 2004 to the end of 2008 Jörg Liese was rector of the university. On 9 December 2008 Claus Schuster was elected as the first president of the University of Applied Sciences Südwestfalen by the University Council, confirmed by the Senate of the university. After a reform by the Senate, the university management was renamed the Rectorate and Claus Schuster was elected Rector of the university on 9 December 2014.