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The Covid-19 pandemic has affected higher pedagogy across the world both in the short term and long term. There is a prevailing impression in both academia and the general public internationally that the temporary complete shift to distance learning in many parts of the world during the pandemic was necessary, but also resulted universally in learning losses. Building on the survey conducted by Lee, Fanguy, Lu & Bligh (2021) in universities in China and Korea that indicated counterintuitive positive learning experiences for students, this paper aims to study whether a similar account emerges in the Pakistani context. Adapting Lee, Fanguy, Lu & Bligh’s survey instrument for a Pakistani audience, findings from the students of one private and one public university indicate contrasting experiences. In the private university, online learning seemed to be successful in terms of organization, guidance and support from instructors, engagement in learning, and relationships with classmates, that helped the students to progress in their online learning. In contrast, the public university students indicated significant dissatisfaction on the aforementioned aspects of their distance learning experiences when compared to their pre-COVID learning experiences. These findings suggest that positive distance learning experiences are implementable in a developing country context even with a strong digital divide, but that sufficient planning, communication and oversight is not present, it can be counterproductive. The findings will be valuable for institutions of both the public and private sector to improve the quality of distance education by catering to the needs of students, so that more opportunities can be provided for self-directed learning. The meaningful contrast in data also suggests that an adapted version of Lee, Fanguy, Lu & Bligh’s survey could be fruitful for providing voice to student experiences with distance learning and potentially as a larger scale assessment tool in Pakistan.