As stated in its Constitution IAU's mission is based on the fundamental principles for which every university should stand:
The right to pursue knowledge for its own sake and to follow wherever the search for truth may lead;
The tolerance of divergent opinion and freedom from political interference.
The overall goals of IAU are both internal and external:
IAU links up its Members, offering them quality services, networking and collective action.
The Association speaks on behalf of universities, other higher education institutions and associations and represents their concerns and interests in public debate and to outside partners.
The goals of the organization are pursued through future oriented collective action, including conferences and meetings, information services, policy discussion, research and publications.
By encouraging Members to work together, IAU:
Facilitates the exchange of experience and learning and fosters cooperation;
Restates and defends the academic values and principles that underlie and determine the proper functioning of universities and other higher education institutions;
Upholds and contributes to the development of a long-term vision of universities' role and responsibilities in society;
Voices the concerns for higher education with regard to policies of international bodies such as UNESCO, the World Bank and others;
Contributes to a better understanding of current trends and policy developments through analysis, research and debate;
Provides comprehensive and authoritative information on higher education systems, institutions and qualifications worldwide.