UNESCO-CEPES was established in 1972 to promote co-operation in higher education among UNESCO's Member States of the Europe Region (the countries of Europe, North America, and Israel). The activities of the Centre are focused foremost on higher education in Central and Eastern Europe and the Director of UNESCO-CEPES also serves as the Representative of UNESCO in Romania.
The origins of the Centre lie in the context of UNESCO actions in favour of international cooperation in higher education going back, in the case of Europe, at least to the First Conference of Ministers of Education of the European Member States of the organization (MINEDEUROPE I) that was held in Vienna, from 20 to 25 November, 1967. This conference gave rise to a set of recommendations that have been viewed as the inspiration for the setting up of the European Center for Higher Education.
In order to fulfill its mission, UNESCO-CEPES undertakes programs and projects relevant to the development and reform of higher education. It also promotes research on higher education and serves as a forum for the discussion of important topics in higher education. It also serves as the co-secretariat of the ENIC/NARIC Networks set up to implement the Council of Europe/UNESCO Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region.