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ICO was established in 1988 and resulted from a partnership between the universities of Twente and Groningen that aimed to offer advanced courses to PhD students. In 1991 and 1992, Maastricht University and the University of Nijmegen, respectively, became members of ICO. Further initiatives in the beginning of 1993 by the ICO directorship encouraged participation of the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Tilburg University and the Open University of the Netherlands. In 1994, ICO was formally accredited as a ‘research school’ by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). In 1996, Leiden University joined ICO and Wageningen University joined in 1999, making up 10 partners, covering almost the complete field of academic educational research in the Netherlands. At that time, a new five-year period for ICO commenced following the accreditation for a second period by the KNAW. In subsequent years, the research group on educational psychology at Tilburg University was reduced and eventually terminated. Tilburg University withdrew from ICO in 2002. At the same time, the Eindhoven University of Technology decided to become a participant in ICO. From January 2004, the VU University Amsterdam has also become a participant. Due to internal university policies encouraging the development of local graduate schools, the universities of Nijmegen and Groningen decided to formally leave ICO in 2004 and 2006, respectively. In 2010, Ghent University, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the University of Antwerp, and the University of Groningen joined the ICO Network, which is a partnership program of ICO, as part of ICO’s expanded efforts to cooperate with national and international partners. They became full ICO members in 2012.
KU Leuven and the Radboud University Nijmegen joined the ICO Network in 2014. They became full partners of ICO in 2016 after the new Formal Basis (Gemeenschappelijke Regeling) was signed by all ICO universities. 

In 2012, the ICO accreditation proposal for 2012-2018 was honoured by the KNAW. This fourth accreditation period will end December 2018.