Understanding public financial management: a new online course

6 Jan 16

A free online course developed by the UK’s University of London aims to broaden knowledge about the effective management of public finances

The capacity to understand how public finances are managed is much needed nowadays, with more and more citizens in a growing number of countries demanding greater accountability in the use of public monies.

No longer is public financial management (PFM) only confined to the expertise of accounting professionals. As the media increasingly report on how mismanagement of public monies impacts on the lives of individuals, it has become more apparent that some basic notions of PFM should be part of everyone’s core knowledge about how the public sector works.

In this spirit, the Centre for Financial and Management Studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, has produced a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) called “Understanding Public Financial Management: How is Your Money Spent?”. The project was developed in collaboration with FutureLearn, a UK provider of online courses with more than 70 partners around the world. You can visit the course at and register for the first run, expected to start on 25th January 2016.

The course aims to provide students with the knowledge and tools to critically appraise the management of financial resources in the public sector. As we know, PFM is a fundamental component of public sector governance. Good PFM systems and practices provide the means for the prudent, accountable, and effective use of public monies. On the other hand, poor PFM systems often result in misallocations, misappropriations and waste of financial resources.

The application of sound principles of PFM is vital for every country, sub-national government and public sector entity. In recent years, many people have been puzzled by such questions as: What went wrong in Greece’s handling of its public debt? How could the looting, theft and corruption in Malawi’s ‘Cashgate’ be avoided? What happens when a city government like Detroit files for bankruptcy? These and similar questions call into play the role of institutions, organisations, and practices that underpin how financial resources are acquired, disbursed, and kept under control. How can we the general public better understand why such issues in managing public finances happen?

The course provides explanations of how the government decides on which programmes and projects public money should be spent; how it obtains financial resources through taxation, fees, charges, concessions, and other means; how public sector organisations report their financial performance to the public; and how the use of public financial resources is audited. The course, which is positioned at an undergraduate level, includes several case studies from countries such as Singapore, Brazil, the US and the UK. Learning resources include articles, videos, case study discussions, and quizzes to learners assess their understanding of the topics.

The course builds on the expertise and resources of SOAS’s Centre for Financial and Management Studies, which has been providing distance learning postgraduate education to more than 2,000 students in over 160 countries for more than two decades. In addition to the Lead Educator, other instructors include Pasquale Scaramozzino, Professor of Economics; Dr Gary Schwartz, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management; Dr Ben Hardy, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management; and Tony Allen, author of several courses at the Centre for Financial and Management Studies.

  • Dr Alberto Asquer
    Dr Alberto Asquer

    Lecturer in Public Policy and Management and Director of the MSc Public Policy and Management and MSc Public Financial Management programmes at the Centre for Financial and Management Studies, SOAS University of London, UK

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