The CDS was formed in 1980 to provide a focal point for students and staff with a common concern with development and co-ordinate the topics offered across the Social Sciences. 

An inter-disciplinary teaching program in development studies has been available at both undergraduate and graduate level since 1985. In the mid 1990s the undergraduate program was further developed into a full major sequence and an honours program. 

Since the late 1990s the postgraduate program consists of a nested program including a Graduate Certificate in Gender Mainstreaming Policy and Analysis, a Graduate Certificate in International Development and a Graduate Diploma in International Development, all of which are also offered to distance students.