The CERN Accelerator School was established at the beginning of 1983 with the main purpose of preserving and transmitting knowledge accumulated, at CERN and elsewhere, on particle accelerators and colliders of all kinds. This provided a framework for a series of courses, either on general accelerator physics or on a specialized topic in the field, which has continued since. Courses were initially held once per year but the needs of the community soon required that the frequency increase to two courses per year, one general and one specialized. A further development was that the general course was alternately given at two levels, either as an introduction to accelerator physics or at a more advanced level. More recently the number of specialized courses has been increased to two or three per year.

Courses are held in one of the CERN Associate and Member states, and are of between one and two weeks duration, depending on the nature of the course. Students from all over the world are welcome to apply, although places often have to be limited.