Session highlights

"The online mode of learning is not an alternative to face to face teaching, but it is the best mode for accessing a large number of students and giving them access to some of the top professors both inside and maybe outside the country." Dr Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid e Azam University, Pakistan 

  • Carla Elena Anduaga, Director for Improvement of Higher Education, Government of Peru, described the huge bureaucratic obstacles and infrastructure challenges in remote regions around delivering ODL that HE institutions in her country are still facing in the wake of the pandemic, after introducing emergency online education. "We are only now learning what is the reality in these regions" she said. 
  • Dr Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid e Azam University, Pakistan, explained how HE institutions in his country were forced to close their campuses for 2 months as the pandemic hit in order to get themselves up to speed to deliver online learning. But he added that as students return to campus and the quality of ODL improves, universities "must see this as an opportunity which came out of the crisis". Professor Nilanthi De Silva, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kelaniya, commented that academics in Sri Lanka have been on a steep learning curve despite having ODL in place before the pandemic. 

Session summary

This session presents a moderated five-way conversation with Vice-Chancellors from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK, as well as government officials from Peru and Malaysia. Its two linked overarching themes are, first, the challenges associated with the rise of online and distance learning (ODL) and, secondly, institutional and governmental responses to those challenges.

The moderator, from the British Council in Sri Lanka, will introduce a number of questions for the panellists to consider and respond to. Conference delegates will be brought into the conversation at various times and throughout.

In emerging economies, unequal access to digital infrastructure means no access at all for many students, especially in rural areas. The rapid pivot to online and distance learning brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic has brought infrastructure and unequal access to higher education into very sharp focus. In our new normal, what interventions and actions will governments and universities need to take to ensure the successful integration of online technology with education provision?

This session relates and debates key education policies and institutional actions actually adopted in 2020 that work towards an equitable distribution of, and access to, online learning. These policies and actions include investment in basic national and institutional infrastructures such as broadband, virtual learning environments (VLEs) and Learning Management Systems. It includes innovations in education technology and has also seen a renewed focus on learner needs and outcomes, including for those with special needs.

The countries represented here, to varying degrees, have faced the challenges of standardised curricula, uneven quality, high cost of delivery, low student engagement and a one-size-fits-all approach. These should give governments and institutions cause for concern on how they can meet the needs of their societies and the legitimate demands of their students.

Delegates are invited to pose their own questions and to join these university leaders and senior education officials debate issues such as:

  • the challenges of 100% online learning, in spite of presumptions regarding the democratisation of digital access
  • national responses to learner outcomes and employability when ODL is a necessity rather than an option
  • how to customise a blended learning approach to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment in the post-Covid-19 landscape
  • the challenges and opportunities of delivering transnational education via ODL
  • the reliability and credibility of assessments in distance learning
  • the impacts of ODL on Continuing Professional Development strategies
  • the implications of ODL for international higher education collaborations at both national and institutional levels.


  • Chair: Mr Salvador Lopez, Director Education, South Asia, British Council
  • Dr Muhammad Ali, Vice-Chancellor, Quaid e Azam University, Pakistan
  • Carla Elena Anduaga, Director for Improvement of Higher Education,Government of Peru, Peru
  • Prof. Nilanthi De Silva, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
  • Dr Wan Zuhainis Saad, Director Academic Development Management Division, Higher Education Department, Ministry of Education Malaysia,Malaysia