The UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) was created by the UNESCO General Conference in 1997, replacing the Regional Center for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (CRESALC for its Spanish abbreviation) established in 1974. It is the sole specialized institute of the United Nations system with the mission to contribute to the improvement of higher education in member States. 

Its biennial work program and budget are approved at the UNESCO General Conference. The Institute is governed by a Governing Board whose members are appointed by the Director General of UNESCO, based on proposals from States and Higher Education networks and organizations. The director of the Institute is responsible for its routine operations.