The research adopted a case study approach. Case studies have the greatest potential to reveal the socio-technical complexities at play in creating inclusive networked systems. Case studies are also easily replicated across multiple contexts to build a context-sensitive knowledge base.
Three countries – Australia, the Philippines and South Africa – were selected to study the effects and future outcomes attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the ICT infrastructure, access and inclusion in higher education.
The Philippines and South Africa were selected partly because the researchers are familiar with the higher education and ICT landscapes in both countries and partly because they present relevant cases in terms of countries dealing with the challenges of growing inequality combined with expectations for their higher education institutions to contribute to national development.
Australia was selected because it presents a more developed and less unequal society as a reference point, but also because Australia faced the particular challenge of a significant decline in international students necessitating not only the implementation of emergency teaching and learning but also planning for a future higher education system less dependent on the presence of international students at the country’s universities.
Data were collected through document analysis and interviews. There have been reasonably in-depth coverage of the impact of COVID-19 on higher education in both the media and, more recently, in the academic literature (for example, Studies in Higher Education Special Issue; Chao 2021; Czerniewicz et al. 2020). Several reports have focused on the issue of access to higher education as emergency teaching and learning systems have been introduced. Relevant literature was found following a two-step process: (1) a Google search for “Higher education”, “covid”, “[country name]”, from which studies dealing with the issue of ICTs and/or social inclusion were identified; (2) by identifying new articles and reports from the reference lists of the literature found by following step (1).
Initially, we had planned to conduct several unstructured follow-up interviews with key informants to fill in any apparent gaps following the document analysis. Because our unit of analysis shifted from the organisational to the national higher education system level, interviews became less essential, and we mainly relied on the literature.