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IAU over the years

Preamble to the IAU Constitution signed by the founding Members on 9 December 1950

IAU Constitution from 1950

First IAU Administrative Board elected in 1950

IAU Secretary General meets with
the Mexico President

Announcement in the UNESCO Courrier (1951)

IAU Administrative Board at UNESCO house


The International Association of Universities was founded in December 1950 in Nice, France.

The initial idea for the Association dates back to the 1930s, yet we had to wait until 1947 when the formal call to create the Association was issued at the 3rd UNESCO General Conference, held in Mexico by the then Mexican Minister of Education, Dr. Torres Bodet. UNESCO went on to organise the Preparatory Conference of University Representatives at Utrecht University in 1948, where the support for the official structure for this unique global Association was secured. The first IAU General Conference took place in Nice in 1950.

The overall aim and purpose of the IAU at that time was “to provide a centre of cooperation at the international level among the universities and similar institutions of higher education of all countries, as well as among organisations in the field of higher education generally, and to be an advocate for their concerns” (Constitution of the International Association of Universities, article 2).

The IAU Bulletin, the initial reference publication, was launched during this phase. Published for the first time in 1953, it compiled information about the work of the Association as well as articles received on emerging topics from around the world.

Next a first copy of the International List of Universities was published in 1952; a few years later in 1959, the first edition of the International Handbook of Universities was launched.

The IAU has been housed at UNESCO since its inception. In the sixties, an important development was the establishment of the UNESCO-IAU Joint Steering Committee for international research on substantive issues universities were facing throughout the world, and it was co-chaired by the UNESCO Director General and the IAU President. The sixties were a time of reflection on the future vision for IAU beyond its regular activities. IAU President, Frank Cyril James, created a Development Committee to consider the future direction of the Association.

The seventies saw a new initiative that came out of the Montreal Conference (1970) - the launch of the IAU Seminar series. The first seminar, looking at the problems of integrated higher education, was held in 1971 in Germany, and was followed by a series of seminars organised annually or biannually. More generally, the decade saw an increase in the formation of regional bodies and organisations dealing with higher education. UNESCO worked closely with IAU on the creation of the UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education (CEPES) in 1972, the United Nations University (UNU) in 1973, and the UNESCO Regional Centre for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (CRESALC) in 1974 - the predecessor to UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) launched in 1997.

The eighties again brought about change, both in terms of leadership at the IAU Secretariat and in terms of its operations and possibilities in a new era of “computerisation”. A new publication was launched in 1988, Higher Education Policy (HEP), a peer-reviewed research journal. IAU collaborated closely with UNESCO on the digitalisation of information services and launched innovative initiatives, including the IAU-UNESCO Information Centre, developed from the initial Information Centre.

It is in the nineties that the tradition of developing Policy Statements began as a means to unite the community around core values, principles and issues of concern to higher education, as well as to position the Association as a key stakeholder in society. These include the Kyoto Declaration on Sustainable Development (1993), the Buenos Aires Statement on Higher Education Funding (1994) and Academic Freedom, Institutional Autonomy and Social Responsibility (1998). This tradition continues throughout the following decade with seven Policy Statements issued between 2000 and 2014. The latest, the IAU Iquitos Statement on Education for Sustainable Development from 2014 informs our activities today (all statements are available here).

After having been involved in the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (Bonn, Germany, 2009), IAU was invited on board the Reference Group of the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (UN-DESD) and the International Steering Group (ISG) in preparation for the end of Decade World Conference on ESD (WC-ESD), Aïchi Nagoya, Japan (November 2014). The Conference Declaration incorporates the recommendations stated in the IAU Iquitos Statement on HESD on Blending Higher Education and Traditional Knowledge for Sustainable Development as adopted by the IAU Administrative Board at the IAU 2015 International Conference in Siena.

Internationalization of higher education became a distinctive mark of IAU activities during the new millennium. IAU launched a series of Global Reports on the Internationalization of Higher Education. To date, five were published in the period 2003-2019. IAU also developed and launched the Internationalization Strategies Advisory Service (ISAS) by which Members can benefit from expert advisory services on internationalization strategies.

It was during this decade that IAU developed its Annual Conferences in between its General Conferences. Regional or transnational university associations have worked closely with the IAU since the beginning. Since the IAU General Conference in 2000 and the adoption of an amended Constitution, university organisations can join IAU as Organisational Members. In addition, IAU also welcomes Affiliate Members, such as university networks and specialised organisations, while individuals involved in IAU’s work may also apply to join as Associates. For the Organisational Members, a biannual forum was created – the Global Meeting of Associations (GMA).

The first IAU E-Bulletin was launched in 2004, which later went on to become IAU Lynx, and the IAU magazine was revamped in 2005 to become IAU Horizons, a biannual magazine which includes a thematic In Focus section in each issue.

IAU contributed to the drafting and adoption of the UN Agenda 2030 – Transforming our World, advocating for the important role of higher education, not least through the IAU Iquitos Statement, and IAU launched a global survey series to monitor the evolving contribution of higher education to sustainable development, the first Survey was conducted in 2016 and a second one in 2019. In 2018, IAU launched a Global Cluster on HESD to promote the role of higher education institutions in building more sustainable societies, acting as the voice of higher education at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), in particular with the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF).

A leadership development programme was launched in 2015, known as Leading Globally Engaged Universities (LGEU), which is open on a priority basis to IAU Members. LGEU is due to move online in 2021.

In 2015, the IAU World Higher Education Database (WHED) was launched as an online portal in collaboration with UNESCO, providing authoritative information on more than 19,000 higher education institutions around the world and some 196 higher education systems. In 2019, a new feature was launched to facilitate the identification of HEIs: the Global WHED ID – a unique digital code for each HEI in the WHED – and this was developed in support of the UNESCO Global Convention on the recognition of higher education qualifications.

During the 15th General Conference (2016), the Members identified four key priority areas for the IAU strategy: leadership, internationalization, sustainable development and digital transformation of higher education. These themes were reaffirmed during the 16th General Conference in 2022. The President and the Administrative Board members steer the work of the Association within these areas.

Over time, IAU has achieved, and continues to achieve, its objectives through knowledge development and sharing, trend analysis, specialised publications and portals, advisory services, training and peer-to-peer learning, and global advocacy and representation. IAU’s involvement in international initiatives is increasingly prominent and multi-layered.

IAU advocates for higher education as a global common good, essential to the development of sustainable societies. Our promotion of opportunities is based on trust, respect and mutual understanding to highlight the role of universities as key actors contributing to creating a sustainable future for our planet and for future generations.


The new IAU President (2022-2026), Prof. Andrew Deeks was elected during the IAU’s 16th General Conference in Dublin in October 2022

IAU Presidents timeline by IAU

Board Members

The Members of the IAU Administrative Board (2022-2026), were elected during the IAU’s 16th General Conference in Dublin in October 2022. Please discover the full list of AB Members HERE

Board members by IAU

NGO in official partnership with UNESCO in associate status
International Association of Universities, UNESCO House, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France
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