Providing a sustainable distance education is paramouth of importance as a highly complex process requieing the involvement of various stakeholders. The purpose of this study is to investigate the criteria affecting the sustainability of distance education (DE) in higher education institutions, and to understand the differences in several internal stakeholders' perspectives in DE via a combined group decision making approach of neutrosophic Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) and Copeland. The criteria affecting the sustainability of DE are identified via an in-depth literature review and expert opinions. Next, bibliometric analysis is conducted to illustrate the gap in the literature and justify the novelty of the suggested approach. Then, a novel integrated neutrosophic AHP and Copeland approach is developed to rank critical success factors by internal stakeholder's perspective. The results integrate all internal stakeholder perspectives to evaluate and improve DE. The findings can guide the practitioners to develop DE planning. The contributions of this study stem from (i) discussing DE sustainability in higher education institutions, (ii) proposing a novel neutrosophic AHP-Copeland approach, (iii) presenting all internal stakeholders, (iv) addressing the uncertainty via truth, falsity and, indeterminacy memberships autonomously.