Malaysia is booming,

and its capital of

Kuala Lumpur &endash; site

of the world's tallest

building &endash; is the

nervecenter of an

economic and

technological

transformation.

and its capital of

Kuala Lumpur &endash; site

of the world's tallest

building &endash; is the

nervecenter of an

economic and

technological

transformation.

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By Manon Anne Ress

Special to Government Technology

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It is another hot and humid day in Kuala Lumpur, known simply as "KL" to its citizens. With a population of almost two million people, the city is always busy. A unique ethnic mix of Malays, Chinese and Indians are seen wearing traditional songkets (headscarfs) or Indian saris and eating one of many traditional dishes at street stalls.

But beneath the colorful scene of Malaysian customs lies a city in constant reformation. A booming economy is creating a rising middle class. Young Malays carrying cellular phones on their way to the mosque ride alongside Chinese Malaysian yuppies on the omnipresent "bas mini" &endash; small pink buses that travel too fast, regardless of their destination.

As the youngest capital in Southeast Asia, KL ranks as one of the most economically successful, just after its neighbor, Singapore. Hills and streets have disappeared and are quickly replaced with new glass buildings. The Pertonas Towers (the world's tallest building) stands as a proud symbol of Malaysian economic muscle.

But an economic transformation needs technology and above all, well-educated citizens. The shortage of educated personnel was a major concern for the government and the rapidly growing Malaysian private sector. In March 1996, for example, 65,000 applications were distributed for only 15,000 university openings, causing near riots at some locations.

And, while many Malaysians are educated overseas, it is at an enormous expense to the country. Now, however, the Malaysian government is seeking to build a new kind of university &endash; a university with no walls, but an open door to educational opportunity. Constructed around the latest information technology, it's to be a virtual school called the Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UTAR).

Vision 2020

The government began to address the lack of educational opportunities through regulatory reform, enabling the establishment of private universities, and instruction in English rather than exclusively Malay.

The new distance education program is part of "Vision 2020" &endash; a larger government effort outlined by Prime Minister Dato' Seri Mahathir bin Mohamad &endash; to turn Malaysia into a "fully developed" country on the leading edge of new technologies.

In the suburbs of KL, the government also hopes to build the MultiMedia Super Corridor &endash; a high-technology corridor focused on the development of multimedia. Within this corridor is being built an intelligent city &endash; Putrajaya &endash; with an information technology infrastructure supporting electronic government, electronic commerce, distance education and distributed care systems.

UTAR

The development of UTAR is supported by Science Applications International Corp., the largest employee-owned research and engineering company in the world, under contract to Koperasi Usaha Bersatu Malaysia Berhad, one of Malaysia's largest commercial cooperatives.

Instead of spending enormous funds and time building and acquiring the facilities to house a campus, distance education is the fundamental approach, rather than an addition to traditional educational methods.

Unlike many other distance education institutions that specialize in continuing education, UTAR focuses on the acquisition of an initial degree (bachelors in business and computer sciences), acquired through a mix of live classroom broadcasts, learning on demand with prerecorded video presentations, and online software applications.

Based and assessed on competency more than on "seat-time," distance education offers the potential for more efficient delivery of services for a rapidly evolving Malaysian society. Instead of getting answers from traditional instructors,