The Disconnected: COVID-19 and Disparities in Broadband Access for Higher Education Students

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many higher education institutions (HEIs) across the world to cancel face-to-face teaching, close campus facilities, and displace staff and students to work and learn from home. Given the persistent nature of the pandemic, and the threat of further waves of the virus, many HEIs continued to deliver courses online and/or use a blended learning approach. While these modes of delivery have existed within the higher education sector for many years, the scale of such change is unprecedented and raises a number of important issues. One such issue is potential disparities in access to digital learning resources for students residing at home, including high-speed quality broadband. Within this context, this research considers higher education students in Ireland ‘at risk’ of poor access to high quality internet connectivity by combining national data on the domiciles of students enrolled in Irish HEIs with detailed spatial data on broadband coverage.

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