The Institute of Surveying & Mapping functions under the Sri Lanka Survey Department (SLSD) which was established by a proclamation of the Governor dated 02nd August 1800, just after four years of British occupation of the island; thus, the Sri Lanka Survey Department is the oldest civil state department in the country.
The first training course (formal) for surveyors was commenced on 20th October 1896 at the Govt. Technical College in Colombo, and later training was entrusted to departmental officers. As a result of this the Sri Lanka Survey Department started its own training school at Modara in 1912, with the practical training conducted at Padukka closer to Colombo. In 1924, the training school, was shifted to its present location at Diyatalwa. It was upgraded in 1968, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Institute of Surveying & Mapping Diyatalwa (ISMD) was established by an Act of Parliament No. 21 of 1969.
Prior to 1967, the training activities were purely confined to the training of surveyors for Survey Department. Afterwards, the institute, being the largest and leading institute that provides training in surveying has gradually taken over almost all the basic training needs of the Survey Department and some other organizations at their request.
With the rapid and continuous development in the profession of surveying and mapping, ISMD has appropriately changed its functions so as to fulfil the current needs.
To promote the sound application of surveying and mapping technology through programs of education, research and advisory services.
To hold examinations for the purpose of ascertaining the persons who have acquired proficiency in surveying, levelling and mapping. (Now conducted by the Examination Branch in SGO)
To grant diplomas to persons who have pursued approved courses of study in the institute and who have passed the examinations of the institute.
To grant the degree in surveying sciences to persons who have pursued the course and been successful in the examinations.
To update the knowledge and skills of relevant officers, organize regular refresher courses.
The necessity of the advanced training facilities in Land Surveying and related fields in order to award degrees and diplomas, for instance postgraduate diploma, arose considerably during the recent past. As Sri Lankans, we were thoroughly depending on institutes abroad for such professional level and Land Survey related needs. Only a few officers in the Survey Department would secure such opportunities by way of foreign grants and scholarships. Hence, it was of great importance to upgrade the Institute of Surveying and Mapping as a degree awarding institute in Surveying Sciences.
In 1990, the Minister of Higher Education by an extraordinary gazette notification No. 620/4 dated 1990.07.24 upgraded the Institute of Surveying and Mapping as a degree awarding institute under the section 25A of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978. Once again UNDP played a prominent role by making necessary funds to strengthen ISMD physically and finally, converting it to academically sound institute through a five-year project commenced in 1990. Under this project, many lecturers were trained overseas and infrastructure facilities of ISMD were upgraded. After all, the ISMD started to conduct a four-year degree course in Survey Sciences in addition to diploma courses. Since the first-degree course was inaugurated on 04th October 1990, Twelve batches passed out and 450 students were conferred with their degrees by now.