Public Policy and Management: Development Assistance

Key information

Start date
Year of study
10 weeks
Module code
Centre for Financial and Management Studies

Module overview

Governments regularly transfer cash or make concessionary loans to other governments in order to promote economic and social development, improve the welfare of the recipient governments’ citizens, or help out with humanitarian assistance after a natural or human-created disaster. Politicians from richer countries attend high-profile conferences and commit to increasing these transfers, often encouraged by popular campaigns in their home countries. Citizens of the richer countries (and many in poorer countries) regularly donate money to voluntary organisations involved in the same sorts of transfers, especially when natural disasters occur, but also at other times, hoping that their contributions will improve the lot of the world’s poorest people.

The transfer process is managed through a medium-sized industry that includes governmental organisations and their aid agencies, international bodies (eg various parts of the United Nations and the European Union), development banks (eg the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank) and a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), all supported by consultants and experts, including those in the academic institutions training and educating their staff. People spend their whole careers in this industry, administering financial flows, designing and managing projects, writing assessments, evaluating results and raising funds.

Views are divided on the impact of all this effort. Some argue not only that aid does not work to promote economic development but also that aid itself holds back development by propping up corrupt and inefficient governments and distorting investment flows, exchange rates and domestic markets. At the other end of the opinion spectrum are those who argue that aid is essential and could be effective if only its quantity and quality were improved.

Others, such as Roger Riddell (2014), are carefully analytical about the impact of the aid effort and argue for improvements in the way aid is delivered, without claiming that aid can or will solve the problem of poverty or unequal wealth and income distribution.

This module enables you to look at the evidence for the impact of these aid efforts and examine the flows of funds, the organisations involved in aid delivery, and the processes of allocating aid and designing aid programmes. We ask you to study the module and its readings with an open mind and reach your own views about what works and what does not work.

Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes of this module are that you will be able to:

  • define what is meant by development assistance and its constituent parts
  • outline the main trends in development assistance
  • gauge the growing role of NGOs, private foundations and other non-DAC (OECD’s Development Assistance Committee) organisations in the provision of development assistance and identify the sources of their funding
  • discuss some of the theory of economic growth, and the role and effectiveness of development assistance in promoting it
  • explain the definitions and measurement of poverty, and the recent reduction in global poverty
  • analyse the relationship between growth, inequality and poverty, and be aware of the role of development assistance in contributing to the reduction in poverty
  • assess the extent to which development assistance is successful in influencing recipient governments’ domestic policies, with respect to environment, climate change, democracy and governance
  • describe what makes for successful and unsuccessful humanitarian assistance, including the relationship between immediate disaster relief and longer-term reconstruction and development assistance
  • assess the role and incentives that aid agencies face; be familiar with the recommendations of the High-Level Forums for improving aid effectiveness and evaluate the extent to which these have been carried out
  • analyse the effectiveness of general budget support and payment by results as aid modalities designed to improve aid effectiveness
  • judge whether relatively new entrants to the development assistance field are different from previous players.

Tuition and assessment

Students are individually assigned an academic tutor for the duration of the module, with whom you can discuss academic queries at regular intervals during the study session.

You are required to complete two Assignments for this module, which will be marked by your tutor. Assignments are each worth 15% of your total mark. You will be expected to submit your first assignment by the Tuesday of Week 6, and the second assignment at the end of the module, on the Tuesday after Week 10. Assignments are submitted and feedback given online. In addition, queries and problems can be answered through the Virtual Learning Environment.

You will also sit a three-hour examination on a specified date in September/October, worth 70% of your total mark. An up-to-date timetable of examinations is published on the website in July each year.

Study resources

  • Study guide: The module study guide is carefully structured to provide the main teaching, defining and exploring the main concepts and issues, locating these within current debate and introducing and linking the assigned readings.
  • Module readings: Throughout the module you will be directed to study a selection of readings, including journal articles, book extracts and case studies that are of particular relevance and interest to the topics covered in the module.
  • Virtual learning environment: You will have access to the VLE, a web-accessed study centre. Via the VLE, you can communicate with your assigned academic tutor, administrators and other students on the module using discussion forums. The VLE also provides access to the module Study Guide and assignments, as well as a selection of electronic journals available on the University of London Online Library.

Module overview

Unit 1 An Introduction to Development Assistance

  • 1.1 What is Development Assistance?
  • 1.2 Main Providers of Development Assistance
  • 1.3 A Brief History of Development Assistance 
  • 1.4 Why Do Countries Donate Development Assistance?
  • 1.5 Aid Allocation 
  • 1.6 International Agreements on Aid Effectiveness and Development
  • 1.7 Conclusion

Unit 2 Development Assistance and Economic Development

  • 2.1 Introduction
  • 2.2 Economic Growth and Development
  • 2.3 Development Assistance and Economic Growth: Theory
  • 2.4 The Impact of Development Assistance
  • 2.5 Conclusion

Unit 3 Poverty

  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Concepts and Measurement of Poverty
  • 3.3 Human and Multidimensional Development Indicators
  • 3.4 Growth, Inequality and Poverty
  • 3.5 Development Assistance and Poverty
  • 3.6 Conclusion

Unit 4 Development Assistance and National Government Policies 1: Environmental and Climate Change

  • Unit 4 and 5 Overview
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals
  • 4.3 Development Finance and Climate Action
  • 4.4 EU Budget Support and the Sustainable Development Goals
  • 4.5 An Example: the LoCAL Programme
  • 4.6 An Example: Private Sector Involvement
  • 4.7 Sustainable Development Goals Progress
  • 4.8 Conclusion

Unit 5 Development Assistance and National Government Policies: 2. Democracy, Governance and Human Rights

  • 5.1 Changing Policy Interventions
  • 5.2 An Example: the European Union and Democracy and Good Governance
  • 5.3 The United States and Democracy Assistance
  • 5.4 Are Sanctions Effective?
  • 5.5 Conclusion

Unit 6 Humanitarian Assistance

  • 6.1 What Is the Scope of Humanitarian Assistance?
  • 6.2 Is Humanitarian Aid Effective?
  • 6.3 Twelve Lessons About Flood Relief Efforts
  • 6.4 The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction
  • 6.5 Examples
  • 6.6 When Are Cash Transfers the Answer?
  • 6.7 Conclusion

Unit 7 Aid Agencies

  • 7.1 Introduction
  • 7.2 Aid Agencies
  • 7.3 Aid Agencies and Aid Effectiveness
  • 7.4 High-Level Forums and Aid Effectiveness
  • 7.5 General Budget Support
  • 7.6 The Predictability of Aid
  • 7.7 Payment by Results/Cash on Delivery
  • 7.8 Managing Aid Agencies
  • 7.9 Conclusion

Unit 8 New Development Assistance

  • 8.1 Development Assistance Beyond the OECD DAC
  • 8.2 Turkey
  • 8.3 BRICS Countries
  • 8.4 Conclusion: Impact of the New Development Assistance on Traditional ODA

Module samples


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules