ACA was founded in June 1993 by the British Council, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC). These organisations supported, and still support, on behalf of their governments, bilateral international cooperation of their countries' higher education institutions. They felt the need for a common European platform as the importance and number of European Union programmes in education and training was growing.
ACA membership soon expanded. In tribute to the EU enlargement and with a view to promote the setting up of independent internationalisation agencies in Central and Eastern Europe, full membership was extended from the EU and EFTA countries to the whole of Europe in 1998. From 1995 until 2005, ACA ran, together with ESMU, the Socrates Technical Assistance Office. Throughout its history, ACA has provided the European Commission and other international bodies with background research on issues of international cooperation in higher education. In 1999, the association started its own publication series, the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Higher Education.