Problem-Based Learning in

South Asian Universities

PBL South Asia, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme, develops best practices in problem-based education as a joint initiative among ten universities located in Finland, India, Nepal, Bhutan, the Netherlands and Lithuania. The project runs during the period 15.11.2018-14.11.2022 and is coordinated by Aalto University, Finland.

Picture: Carles Martinez

PBL South Asia develops teaching models for problem-based learning under the theme of global sustainability at the participating South Asian higher education institutions. Participating HEIs adopt new teaching methods, adapting PBL practice to local educational environments and societal needs. Focusing on the practical implementation of student-led projects and interdisciplinary group work, the project bridges teacher training with the joint implementation of PBL courses as test cases among the consortium members.
PBL South Asia aims at long-term impact through adapted courses and curricula, training materials and student projects. In doing so, the project encourages increased cooperation and engagement between academia and societal partners to solve complex challenges, while inspiring and fostering required competencies, skills, and knowledge among participating students, mentors and course coordinators.


Transformative experience

  • Realize how academic training relates to concrete challenges
  • Develop critical and systems thinking, design and fieldwork methods
  • Learn new skills with relevance for employment


Opportunity to shape education

  • Enhance societal impact through new methods of teaching
  • Broaden interdisciplinary and international research networks
  • Build partnerships with businesses, NGOs and governments


Strategic impact for society

  • Engage a new generation of problem solvers
  • Connect with academia and innovation ecosystems
  • Create an enabling environment for sustainable development

PBL student case methodology

PBL South Asia employs an iterative teaching approach based on group work led by heterogeneous student teams, closely followed and supported by faculty who act as mentors to the student teams. The intercultural and inter-institutional implementation process serves as a testing and learning environment for the participating HEIs. Through feedback and reflections from students, mentors, course coordinators, HEI leads and external stakeholders engaged in the project, the localised PBL student case methodology is then broadly defined and adopted.

In practice, student groups build a team, define the problem, objectives and expectations, review the current scenario, map the initial systemic context before embarking on joint field work. During field work, they explore, research, test, validate and verify their approaches and plans together with relevant stakeholders. After the field work, they form feasible approaches and interventions and plan in detail how these would address the given problem now and in future. At the end they reflect on their learnings and communicate the interventions to relevant stakeholders, and participating faculty assess the process from a learning and teaching perspective.

Typical steps of a student project

① Background

Universities identify community challenges and set up student teams. The teams review the current scenario and define objectives, expectations, risks and relevant stakeholders.

② Initial systemic context

The teams analyze the challenge from aspects such as socio-cultural,environmental, economic, institutional, political, or Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA). Teams formulate an initial ideal approach to address the challenge.

③ Action plan

The teams visit the site of inquiry and conduct fieldwork for 2-3 weeks. The teams conduct data collection such as interviews, mapping, photography surveys, and engage with the local stakeholders through workshops to validate the ideal approach.

④ Revisions

Based on feedback from relevant stakeholders, collected data, research and analysis , the teams revise the initial action plan and propose feasible approaches and interventions.

⑤ Theory of Change

The teams stay in contact with relevant stakeholders and put forward concrete ideas for the process of change. They participate in community meetings and iterate the requirements and the assumptions of the action plan and the proposed interventions.

⑥ Sustainable Impact

The teams present their findings and proposals to course coordinators and local stakeholders. They discuss and reflect their approaches. The long term development and the ownership of the interventions are also discussed as a part of the ways forward.

Outcome and ways forward

The PBL South Asia project has resulted in the adoption of applied PBL teaching methods at the participating HEIs in Nepal and Bhutan, and influenced the teaching approaches of project partners that already had PBL elements in their curricula. It has cast light on the significant differences of teaching environments and the need to adapt general educational principles to serve heterogeneous academic and societal communities.

In addition, there is an increased interest in the application of PBL pedagogy for global sustainability among the participating HEIs at large, local stakeholders such as innovation ecosystem actors, societal partners, and faculty and course coordinators at other higher education institutions. Interested parties have actively engaged in the PBL South Asia project through teacher trainings, methods workshops, multidisciplinary PBL curriculum planning, and adoption and execution of projects in the local contexts.

To further adopt and promote the PBL methodology and sustain the positive momentum and engagement of the partner universities and other HEIs in the region, the PBL South Asia Network for interested faculty and institutions is initiated and coordinated by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

PBL South Asia Network website will be released soon.


All 10 partnering HEIs have been active in coordinating, contributing and executing activities such as PBL based curriculum adoption and new course implementation, PBL student cases management, teacher trainings, methods workshops, dissemination etc., which can be seen from the links below.

Aalto University
Riina Subra
Avinash Dhital

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay
Venkata Santosh Kumar Delhi
Nepal Engineering College
Durgaprasad Bhandari
Asian Institute of Technology & Management
Lena Sthapit
Kathmandu University
Diwakar Bista
Royal University of Bhutan
Hemlal Bhattarai

Delft University of Technology
Jan-Carel Diehl
Kaunas University of Technology
Andrius Jurelionis
Sagarmatha Engineering College
Ramesh Kumar Shrestha

Indian Institute of Science Bangalore
Apoorv Naresh Bhatt

The European Commission's support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.