The history of the Institute can be traced back to 1972 when the Political Education Subject Panel was set up under the defunct Institute of Development Management (IDM), Mzumbe. The subject matter of this Panel was multi-disciplinary in nature drawing teaching staff from various departments. In 1976, the Panel was changed to Political Education Department to emphasize teaching of the policy of Socialism and Self Reliance which was the national guiding philosophy by then. In 1988, it changed to Development Studies Subject Panel to give it an international character. With the transformation of IDM-Mzumbe to Mzumbe University in 2002, the Development Studies Subject Panel was elevated to become the Institute of Development Studies.