Understanding Development Assistance

This module provides an in-depth, critical look at international development assistance, with a special focus on understanding the political economy of aid, and how aid responds to local political dynamics in practice.

We will examine the global aid architecture, and the variety of roles international aid actors play, before exploring contemporary debates about aid effectiveness and the potential unintended consequences of aid. We will explore the changing global context for aid - including the emergence of new donors (e.g. China), countries transitioning away from aid, the rise of other forms of finance, and shifting public attitudes to aid in donor countries.

At the practical level, we will engage with some of the key tools used by development agencies to analyse and adapt to political economy dynamics, and the effectiveness of these tools. We then turn to the future - beyond aid - and ask whether aid will become less significant, and what, if anything, will replace its role in development. Weekly lectures will be complemented with participatory weekly seminars, giving you the opportunity to research into current aid trends, and critically evaluate aid effectiveness.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this module you should be able to:

  • Outline the scale and complexity of the global aid architecture (including actors and frameworks)
  • Describe and critique key debates on aid effectiveness
  • Analyse the political economy of aid, and how aid adapts to political dynamics in practice
  • Critically discuss the future of aid, and its role in relation to other forms of development finance


  • 1 x oral presentation (25%)
  • 1 x 3,000 word written assignment (75%)