The Centre for Development Studies (CDS) was established as an autonomous social science research institute on 19 October 1970 .  It was the leadership and vision of Shri C. Achutha Menon, the then Chief Minister of Kerala that led to the creation of several research centres in Kerala in different disciplines related to the development of the State. He was able to persuade legendary development economist Professor K. N. Raj to set up the Centre and provide intellectual leadership. Professor Raj continued to remain the driving force behind all academic activities of CDS for over two decades. CDS was also fortunate to have Laurie Baker, a radically innovative architect, visualise and design its campus and buildings in a distinctive but cost-effective manner. The architectural splendour of the CDS campus is the result of this vision and effort of Laurie Baker.

The Centre is, perhaps, one of the first educational institutions in the country to follow a democratically decentralised governing structure ensuring complete transparency in administrative and academic matters. The Centre is managed by a Governing Body consisting of eminent academicians, planners as well as administrators. The present Chairman of the Governing Body is Prof. Sudipto Mundle. The current Director is Prof. C. Veeramani. The Governing Body has delegated several of its powers to sub-committees to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the Centre.

The Centre draws its financial support mainly from the Government of Kerala and the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR). The Reserve Bank of India, the Planning Commission, now known as NITI Aayog, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Government of Kerala have instituted endowment units for research in selected areas at CDS. A new research programme for analysing international migration from Kerala has been established at the Centre.The Union Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs had set up a migration unit to study issues relating to international migration from India.

The state-of-the-art CDS library is one of the largest social science libraries in India with over 1,50,000 titles in economics and related disciplines and subscribing to about 400 professional print journals and around 3500 e-journals. The IT wing of the Centre provides technical support to the faculty, students, library and Administration. The fully WI-Fi enabled campus extends to guest house and hostels. CDS has a regular faculty strength of about 20. Further, it has 18 Visiting Professors/Fellows from across the country and abroad and 29 Administrative Staff.

The main activities of the Centre are research, teaching and training. Right from the beginning, a strong all-India character in terms of both faculty and student composition was seen, as well as being very much internationalized, attracting a large number of distinguished academic visitors from abroad. Presently CDS has tie-ups with eleven international institutions, nine national institutions and three institutions at the state level.

Over the past 50 years, CDS has crossed several milestones. During the 1970s, although a large part of academic research conducted at CDS was devoted to issues pertaining to the national economy, it was natural that CDS researchers devoted significant attention to issues pertaining to the economy and society of Kerala. In the mid-1970s, CDS became an institution affiliated to the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and started receiving a part of its core funding from this agency. Right from its inception, CDS emphasised on training of young researchers and launched the MPhil and PhD programmes, recognised by Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. It also ran a PhD programme affiliated to the University of Kerala.

Over the past decades, CDS has diversified its research into a large number of areas. Some of the topics that received significant attention in the 1970s and 1980s are no longer in vogue, while new areas of research concern have emerged in the field of development studies. It is also worth mentioning that the Centre received prestigious endowment funds from different government agencies to set up dedicated research units in recent years to focus on specific areas like local government, migration and plantation development. Needless to mention, CDS has been attracting sponsored project research funding from several national and international organisations for researching various dimensions of development.

Another major milestone for CDS in recent years is the launch of its MA programme in Applied Economics in 2012. The introduction of the MA programme marked a paradigm shift in CDS’ academic profile. Faculty members now devote a significant part of their time to teaching courses in this full-fledged programme, over and above their research commitments and research supervision.