Don's Diary

December 18, 1998


The University of South Australia's City West campus is a new creation of yellow concrete buildings and blue staircases. Completed just over a year ago it houses the school of business, where I am embarking on face-to-face meetings following internet scanning and email correspondence with Antipodean colleagues interested in e-commerce. Our host today marches us up and down staircases, across walkways, in and out of lifts, to demonstrate Australian higher education at its most modern. Discussion includes issues surrounding electronic delivery of MBAs in Southeast Asia. We are taken with the hospitality, but not the yellow walls.


Across town to the University of Adelaide, built when Australia could afford "aesthetically pleasing building materials". A research seminar on e-commerce is preceded by lunch in a Thai restaurant, part of Adelaide's cultural scene. Our lively conversation on developments in retailing includes a discussion on the merits of shopping on the internet and whether Manchester United should buy Michael Owen.


On a bright day in early summer our hosts take us to the Barossa valley. Every vineyard has its own website, but while Australian wines may be bought electronically, it is much more pleasant to sample them at the cellar door.


Before our flight to Singapore, the local wildlife park provides an opportunity to cuddle a koala, feed a joey and torment a Tasmanian devil. No e-commerce today, but problems with an electronic visa which, though registering on the system in Manchester, does not appear in Adelaide.


Visit Singapore's two universities to meet colleagues with research interests in e-commerce. The taxis here have Global Positioning Systems installed. The driver still has trouble finding the correct building at Nanyang Technological University. Our host, who has a PhD in terrorist information, advises the Malaysian government on its development of the Multimedia Super Corridor. Moving on to the National University of Singapore we feel we need GPS to find our host's office in a warren of anonymous corridors. She has just returned from a Singapore Chamber of Commerce conference on the benefits of e-commerce.

In both universities we discuss competition from overseas higher education institutions. We have been surprised to see how many advertisements there are in the Straits Times for MBAs delivered electronically or by locally franchised colleges from British, Australian and American organisations. Singapore's raw material is the brains of its citizens. These people need certificates and degrees to prove their worth to the country.


Today is devoted to an experience of retailing in a technologically advanced society. This includes using an integrated electronic farecard on the buses and MRT (Singapore's island-wide rail network), drawing cash from a bank account in the UK using an ATM in Singapore, and investigating the use of public-access kiosks in an IT mall six storeys high. A most pleasant experience on this crowded and technological island is to be found sitting on the beach drinking milk from a fresh coconut and watching the ships on the Java Sea queuing to enter the world's third-busiest harbour.

Frances Slack Senior lecturer in business information technology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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