Higher Education Digital Transformation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Findings from a study into digital transformation in HE, with early insights into how institutions are considering their future after COVID-19.

Education Intelligence Unit

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March 2, 2022

HolonIQ recently completed a study with almost 100 institutions across 14 countries in the LAC region, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and IDB Lab. The report serves as a 'temperature check' for digital transformation in higher education in the region, including the key challenges, capabilities, approaches and needs.

Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 30 million students studying 60,000 programs at 10,000 Higher Education institutions. While there has been a significant increase in HE participation over the last decade, uptake of digital has been limited until recently.

This new report provides an ‘on the ground’ view of the key issues facing higher education institutions across Latin America and the Caribbean, to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on institutions, approaches to digital transformation and visions for the future.

LAC is a hugely diverse region with differences between countries in terms of public vs. private institutions, regulation and funding, the local economic context, the impact of COVID-19 and how it is being managed in each economy.

Access to higher education continues to be a focus in the region and there has been significant progress in participation with gross enrolment rates more than doubling since the mid 1990’s. However, this is largely driven by increases in secondary education graduation rates, an expansion in the number of higher education institutions and programs, demand-side policies such as student loans and scholarships as well as an increased spend on education as a proportion of GDP.

Higher education leaders are in no doubt about the magnitude and the diversity of the challenges ahead. Digital adoption and transformation is top of mind, with a need for strong leadership and a connected approach across the institution.

Almost all respondents identified that digital and online learning was of very high (76%) or high (15%) importance to the future of their institution. The results clearly show that higher education institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean know that ‘digital’ and online learning will be critical to how their institution operates, how it delivers educational programs, experiences and outcomes, and how it can ‘deliver’ for employers and for their respective nation.

At the same time, institutions have assessed their digital capabilities less highly than the importance of digital to their institution, revealing a ‘capability gap’, which needs to be addressed if universities are to meet expected future needs in digital.

The critical role of faculty and staff has been highlighted by LAC higher education leaders with two thirds calling out teacher capability and training, and over half identifying culture and change management as the biggest barriers to improving digital and online learning at their institution.

Technology is also part of a digital transformation and institutions have identified that the right technical infrastructure is required along with the appropriate technology solutions. Knowing which technology platforms or tools fit best with which instructional or learner need is a critical component to achieving good outcomes in a transition to digital, and this in turn requires staff knowledge and skills in order to be able to appropriately assess educational technologies.

Higher education (HE) institutions are re-evaluating how learning is designed and delivered. For many, the biggest challenges will be internal change. Others are re-thinking the role of higher education altogether.

As higher education institutions continue to monitor immediate and ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are facing many choices. Some have been able to take advantage of opportunities arising from disruption, building on foundations which were already in place. Others are focused on recovery and re-building before they consider future development and innovation. All agree that the future is heading in a different direction than pre-COVID and that digital transformation is a key part of the future.

Download the report in Spanish or English.

Join the Webinar. HE Digital Transformation in Latin America.

Join HolonIQ and the Inter-American Development Bank to learn more about digital transformation in the region’s higher education sector, including a current state assessment, the key challenges for institutions, which capabilities are seen as most important for the future and what education leaders in the region see as the support needed to improve digital maturity.

Register now

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