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This article is written by Tatiana Gómez Tibasosa on behalf of Icare Sustainably to create awareness on the effect of COVID-19 on education and to give youth a platform. The mission of Icare is modelled on the SDG goals.  This article focuses on ‘How COVID-19 affected higher education in Colombia.’

This article is part of a series about education and COVID-19. Find other articles about COVID and education in the series here:

Introduction: How COVID-19 affected higher education in Colombia and how students kept going

It has been 2 years and a little more since the news about the appearance of a virus that, against all odds, invaded the world in a matter of weeks and the habits of societies, whatever their customs were, were drastically modified to generate in an accelerated way new activities that avoid (expected) new infections.

Access to higher education in Latin America turns out to be a challenge for a significant percentage of the population at a young age, who do not have enough resources (sometimes) to pay tuition and curricula without having the need to acquire a bank loan or with a state entity; and in the adult population, represents a challenge when it comes to fulfilling work responsibilities and filling academic activities through double days that involve a consummate effort years later.

However, this article aims to visualize the current state of university education in Colombia, where students and teachers have overcome countless obstacles and challenges to continue the learning and teaching processes in fields such as research or science, after the unexpected blow of the COVID-19 pandemic that, without a doubt, generated abrupt changes in the lifestyle, habits, and customs of population groups around the world.

Remembering the educational landscape

According to the Colombian Ministry of Education (2016) “The higher education system is one of the five in Latin America that managed to rank among the 50 strongest in the world, according to the “QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings”, which was published on May 18 in London.

Colombia, meanwhile, ranked 34th in this ranking, which measures how strong higher education systems are global. The ranking compares the performance of countries’ higher education based on four measurement criteria: system strength, access, flagship institution, and economic context.”

However, and despite the apparently successful statistics, access to higher education fell, by 1.5% in 2018, representing a total of 38,000 fewer enrolled than in 2016. That is, the magazine Portafolio indicated in December 2019, according to the aforementioned studies, 570,000 students who on average enrolled annually in Colombia, decreased to 477,000 by 2018.

The above could be attributed to different causes that frame, as mentioned at the beginning, the difficulty of economic access to pay tuition and subsequent semesters, once it is understood that private education is inaccessible to some fronts of society; however, other areas are presented in the decrease in access to higher education, such as the lack of motivation in the currently defined programs, the absence of virtual modules and the regulation of labor competitiveness, since some traditional companies in the country are opting for the hiring of unskilled or poorly trained labor, to occupy positions that in theory should correspond to university professionals.


Effects of COVID-19 on higher education in Colombia

On the other hand, the spread of COVID-19 also affected among many spheres that of higher education in Latin America and occasionally in Colombia. Specters such as school dropout, the obligatory jump to virtuality in some of the most archaic pedagogical practices and the imperative need to look for new economic sources that allow collaborating with the household economy, stood out significantly.

Although access to higher education in Colombia is not easy for a large part of the population, the coronavirus also added conditions not previously contemplated.

Some universities did not have virtual platforms that offered long-distance programs except for those specialized in the subject and others, definitively suspended various careers to cover the expenses of the campus. Faced with this, the challenge became greater.

The increase in school dropout due to the same number of infections of their own and of relatives sought to visualize new panoramas in medical care and the prioritization of the state of health of social groups, which required new economic investments in hospital treatments and experimental medicines.
Finally, the informal economy due to the growth of patients with COVID-19 increased to cover the expenses that increased due to the absence of providers at home given the high number of death of adults.

The higher education landscape in Colombia today

With a scenario as bleak as that caused by the pandemic, Colombia is characterized by being an enterprising and hard-working country, which despite the circumstances seeks mostly the materialization of projects and new companies to comply with the demand of economic and competitive internal patterns, and of course, university education was no exception.

Autonomously, the higher education campuses resorted to three (3) major strategies to resume their student flow and be able to help students at the completion of their careers:


  1. In the first instance, they tried to generate virtual programs so that teachers and students could continue with their classes without interruption. However, it produced a drastic change in the way in which knowledge was imparted, not all academics were satisfied with the measure, although there were no alternatives in the cities with the highest number of infections, more when not all students have access to internet service.
  2. Secondly, transition measures to face-to-face attendance were adopted through biosecurity standards framed in self-care, and the intermittent attendance of students and teachers to avoid the increase in infections.
  3. Finally, mass vaccination was key in the possibility of resuming daily activities, which, by August 2021, in Colombia generated the total reopening of educational spaces in the hope of improving the dropout figures and the motivation to enroll in the programs that gradually returned to normality.

Closing remarks: future higher-education in Colombia

Now we know how COVID-19 affected higher education in Colombia.

The challenge now is to not lower our guard against possible outbreaks or modifications of the initial virus that may put the world population on alert and that structure new isolation prevention measures. And meanwhile, educational entities are in a maximum effort to capture the attention of students through promotions, modules and educational accesses that allow increasing the number of current professionals, so that in the future, there is no shortage of experts.

Universities in particular require large state economic incentives to give attention to a possible increase in demand if the outlook is favourable later and why not, maintain hope in the improvement of the national educational quality?



1. As described by the World Bank for the year 2017, “the number of people between 18 and 24 years old attending a higher education institution [in Latin America] increased from 21% in 2000 and to 43% in 2013 with a greater number of students coming from middle and lower sectors, something that was not seen years ago. Today there are more than 20 million students who attend the more than 10,000 institutions, which offer more than 60,000 training programs.” Graduate: Only half achieve this in Latin America. Taken from: 

2. World Bank (2017). “On average, only half of the people between the ages of 25 and 29 who were enrolled did not complete their studies, either because of dropping out or because they are still studying.”

3. Colombia’s higher education system, among the 50 best in the world: QS Ranking. Taken from:

4. Portfolio (2019) Fewer and fewer young people are reaching higher education. Taken from:

5. “According to the IESALC study on the impacts of COVID-19 on ES, in Latin America and the Caribbean only one in two households has broadband in their homes.” International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean – UNESCO (2020). Taken from:

6. “For the year 2020 with the crisis caused by COVID19, constant monitoring has been carried out in terms of enrollment and retirees with the aim of obtaining first-hand information to establish strategies that allow maintaining the permanence and educational continuity in the course of the year. By August of that year (2022), according to the SIMAT Enrollment System, the total enrollment, without counting adults, was 9,395,018 where 102,880 were in the state of retirees, which represents 1.1% (Mineducación, 2020)”. Garcia, Sandra (2022). School dropout in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Colombia. Page 5. University of Los Andes. Taken from: