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‘Double digital divide’ stokes fears over impact of online learning

Survey shows up scale of gaps in online access between countries and in universities

Governments need to ensure that the move to online teaching, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, does not leave any students behind, the Association of Commonwealth Universities has warned.

“Significant gaps in digital engagement at different levels within universities as well as between high and low income countries point to a ‘double digital divide’ that undermines the drive for inclusive and equitable access to higher education by 2030,” wrote authors of a 3 September report.

A survey by the group found that 83 per cent of respondents from high income countries reported having access to broadband, with 63 per cent of respondents from upper-middle-income countries having access. That number dropped to 38 per cent for those from lower-middle-income countries, and 19 per cent from low-income countries.

To address this, the report authors recommended that policymakers prioritise higher education funding, invest in initiatives meant to tackle the digital divide and widen access to higher education and lifelong learning by backing digital transformation initiatives.

Universities can help by providing financial and digital support to their students and staff and identify users who are likely to experience more trouble accessing digital content.

The results are based on the answers of 258 survey respondents from 33 countries.