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International development: making sense of a changing world

In this interdisciplinary module you’ll cover key areas of international development. These include: different models of development; shifting power in the international system; the relationship between poverty, inequality and livelihoods; the impact of conflict and insecurity; and the role of technology and the environment. The history of development as a process of change, the power relationships in that process and the different scales at which development takes place from transnational to local, are themes running throughout the module. These themes integrate the material – using a mix of case studies, interactive activities, text and DVD – to provide a central narrative encouraging critical appraisal and curiosity.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

International development highlights some of the most pressing challenges facing us in the twenty-first century. This module introduces you to the context of development, its contested nature, its links to global processes of economic and social change, and everyday choices and uncertainties. It is open to anyone with a professional or personal interest in international development, international relations, social and political sciences.

A unique feature of the module is its focus on critical reflection and on understanding development from a personal level, as well as its global and policy implications. You'll use a variety of teaching media: video and audio, podcasts, websites, computer-based interactive resources, online forums, and two books that make up the core of the module. The content is divided into the following six blocks:

Block 1
Focusing on the rise and decline of two cities, Shanghai and Detroit, you're introduced to the key debates and theories in international development and international studies. It identifies new centres of power, state and non-state actors, and focuses on understanding new forms of organisation and public action in the context of development. You'll begin to develop historical awareness by working through a timeline for Shanghai and Detroit mapped against global and national events, and examining the development of these cities in the context of shifting international power relationships. You'll also have an opportunity to begin to reflect on your own understandings of what development means.

Block 2
This block is concerned with the changing world system and how we conceptualise development, as well as teaching contemporary material on the economic rise of countries such as Brazil, India and China. It combines debates in international political economy, international relations and development as well as geographical concepts of scale. You'll be introduced to the changing economic and political balance (hegemony) of the international system – including the power of non-state actors such as transnational corporations and cities – enabling you to examine the drivers of development in emerging economies in the context of power shifts over time. You'll also begin to analyse data and understand its potential to conceal as much as to inform development policy and debates.

Block 3
One of the most contentious areas of development studies is the debate about how to address the mass poverty that still afflicts many parts of the world. You'll be critically analysing contemporary debates on poverty and inequality in the current changing world context. It looks at concepts and measures, why they are contested, and why they matter for policy and practice. Using case studies, the block reviews different frameworks for analysing livelihoods and ways of making a living for people on low incomes, and critically appraises different initiatives to improve livelihoods. The block ends with a debate on the focus and content of aid, how it is changing, and whether aid is 'doing the right thing' to alleviate poverty.

Block 4
Do we need security to have development? Do insecurity, conflict and vulnerability hamper development goals? How can the most vulnerable people protect themselves or at least prepare for the future? To answer these questions, Block 4 builds upon discussions and conceptual tools developed previously and looks at how security concerns have entered development policies and actions. It explores the ‘security-development nexus’ with a focus on different forms of insecurity: from national to individual, and from global to local. The block offers you the opportunity to understand how security and development have become interconnected and to critically assess current policies as well as reflecting on what should be done. You’ll further explore the role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), campaign groups, communities and movements for change within developing as well as developed societies.

Block 5
This block is mainly taught online because its focus is the link between technology, resources and the environment in relation to development. It asks how equitable development can be sustained in a world of finite resources, where demand for energy especially is pressing and where issues such as climate change threaten past, present and future gains. The block analyses in a hands-on way – via an online role play – how diversity and difference across the world might be turned into a source of knowledge and appropriate action.

Block 6
The module concludes through revision and integrating study material, and encourages you to think critically about ‘ways forward'. It provides you with the opportunity to reflect upon and consolidate your understanding of:

  • the links between power, development theories and practice
  • the relationships between key actors at different scales of development
  • the history of development and its relevance to the present; and
  • your own capacity for agency and empowerment as citizens and/or development practitioners.

You will learn

On completion of the module, you are expected to gain an understanding of the contested meanings and challenges of contemporary international development, taking into account the history of the international system, the role of power and agency, and processes of development at different scales. You will examine in detail major development issues through case studies focusing on a country, programme or policy.

At the same time as studying international development, this module will also develop your reading, writing, analytical and communication skills. It will help you evaluate information and arguments, interpret and use data in a variety of graphical and numerical forms, and use particular software applications and computers for information-searching, communication and collaboration. The module is also designed to heighten your ability to become an independent learner. Such skills and attributes are highly valued by employers and can be applied to a wide variety of contexts.

Vocational relevance

While open to anyone with an interest in the issues covered, this module has particular vocational relevance to those working, or wanting to work, in the development field. You'll gain knowledge and understanding of international and development issues, and be able to apply this to problem solving within professional practice, including informing policy debates and report writing. You will work in a variety of ways including independently and in collaboration with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, demonstrating effective communication skills and adaptability.

Critical reflection is a key component of the module, enabling you to develop an understanding of the origins and impact of individual viewpoint, your own and that of others, on policy formulation and decision-making. Also importantly for development debates is to consider how equality, social justice and inclusion might be incorporated into development practice alongside established concerns such as economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and who you can ask for advice and guidance.

We aim to provide online and face-to-face tutorials in a range of locations students can travel to, though we cannot guarantee availability close to where you live. Recordings of these will typically be made available. Student numbers on the module, and where tutors are based, will affect the locations of where tutorials are held, and what online alternatives are provided. We also cannot guarantee that face-to-face tutorials will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

International development: making sense of a changing world starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2024.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have some knowledge of the subject area or social sciences in general, obtained either through OU level 1 study, or by doing equivalent work at another university.

    Either of the OU level 1 modules Introducing the social sciences (DD102) or Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) would be ideal preparation.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    07 Oct 2023 Jun 2024 £3462.00

    Registration closes 07/09/23 (places subject to availability)

    October 2023 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2024. Fees normally increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

    This information was provided on 31/03/2023.

    Can you study an Access module for free?

    In order to qualify, you must:

    1. be resident in England
    2. have a personal income of less than £25,000 (or receive qualifying benefits)
    3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above, or completed 30 credits or more of OU study

    How to apply to study an Access module for free

    Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible.

    If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069 or you can request a call back.

    Not eligible to study for free?

    Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

    • monthly payments through OUSBA
    • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

    To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

    What's included

    You'll be provided with module books, other printed materials, a DVD and have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials
    • interactive online activities
    • audio and video content
    • assignment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access.

    You will need

    A DVD player.

    Computing requirements

    You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

    Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    If you have a long-term health condition, specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia), mental health difficulty or a disability of any kind, you are entitled to reasonable adjustment to support your study. We use the terms ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ to cover all these conditions.

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying TD223 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.