Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has triggered serious disruption in economic, social and cultural dynamics around the globe. Higher education has also suffered undeniable challenges as a result of the pandemic, with thousands of university students all over the world experiencing displacement, disconnect and disengagement from formal learning. In the Global South, online and distance education programmes tend to be concentrated in urban centres. In Nepal, students from rural areas, low socio-economic and gendered spaces, and those with low proficiencies in English and technological skills are experiencing inequalities in access to and participation in online and distance education. This article outlines how universities' shift to online teaching and learning modes due to the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced social inequalities in Nepal. For the study presented here, the author collected data through netnographic research methods. These included online interviews with university executives, online focus group discussions (FGDs) with university teachers and students, observation of and participation in online classes and policy conferences and reviews of online documents. The article analyses three overriding mechanisms which are reinforcing social inequalities in higher education: (1) universities’ policy trajectories in shifting teaching/learning from face-to-face to online mode; (2) infrastructural limitations challenging effective implementation of online teaching/learning; and (3) a lack of strong pedagogic support for students from disadvantaged and marginalised spaces, including those with low proficiencies in English and technological skills. The author presents a number of tangible strategies for universities to implement in order to mitigate social inequalities. He recommends the adoption of policies and practices that optimise the inclusive use of online and distance education programmes for best effect, both now and in the post-pandemic era.
International Review of Education, 67