The IATS was formally created in 1979 on the occasion of a conference of Tibetan Studies that was organised at the University of Oxford by the late Michael Aris. The purpose of the Association, as stated in the statutes that were drawn up at this meeting, is primarily to promote the study of Tibet from all disciplinary perspectives such as history, religion, linguistics and art, to cite just four prominent examples, by providing a forum at which both established and aspiring scholars can present original academic research. As an association, the IATS has no political interest or affiliation. Altogether sixteen seminars of the IATS have been held, spanning three continents and hosted in the following countries: the UK (1979, 2003), the USA (1982, 1998), Germany (1985, 2006), Japan (1989), Austria (1995), The Netherlands (2000), Norway (1992, 2016), Canada (2009), Mongolia (2013), France (2019), and the Czech Republic (2022).

The 17th IATS seminar, which is due to take place in 2026, will be held in Nepal.