Malaysian PM appeals for cyber city partners

June 13, 1997

ACADEMICS are lagging behind business in taking up the opportunities offered by Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

During his visit to the United Kingdom last month, Malaysia's prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad spoke to a packed hall at Imperial College, London. He appealed for partners and investors in the linear city, equipped with broadband fibre-optic communications and the latest information technology, that Malaysia is building on a 15 by 50 kilometre strip of land extending southwards from the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Mahathir said 1,000 serious enquiries had been received. "Those who do not come on board now may find the going tough later," he added.

Later Dr Mahathir addressed a round-table meeting before dinner. More than 20 executives from nine European countries were on the guest list. But the only academics present were David Knight, head of the department of visual communication at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and Imperial College's rector, Sir Ronald Oxburgh, who hosted the event.

Though many United Kingdom institutions recruit students from Malaysia, Professor Knight says he has spent ten years developing Malaysian contacts. The Birmingham Institute, part of the University of Central England, is in negotiations which could involve it in at least three projects connected with the MSC.

The institute has formed a venture with RQ Net, an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur which wants to set up an Internet trading centre. Negotiations with the Malaysian conglomerate Land and General could lead to another joint venture. The intention, Professor Knight explained, "is to provide a digital media centre to provide content for the whole MSC". In a third bid, the institute teamed up with the construction company Hasmi Bucknall which hopes to build a technological university for Telekom Malaysia within the MSC.

The MSC is the spearhead of Dr Mahathir's Vision 2020 plan to bring Malaysia into the information age. There are plans for electronic government and a national smartcard. Most schools should be connected to the Internet within two years.

The Super Corridor's international advisory panel includes many Silicon Valley notables including Michael Spence and William Miller, respectively dean and professor at Stanford University's graduate school of business, and the business guru Kenichi Ohmae, who has a chair at UCLA and a visiting professorship at Stanford.

The MSC lures foreign companies with tax holidays, unrestricted employment of foreign knowledge workers, exemption from the requirement to employ local labour, and uncensored Internet access. But Dr Mahathir warned: "If you download and distribute illegal material you will be subject to the laws of the country."

Malaysia is updating its statute books for the digital age. Laws on digital signatures, copyright, computer crime and telemedicine have been passed, and further "cyberlaws" are planned.

The Multimedia University in the new city of Cyberjaya is being constructed. Situated on a low hill backed by jungle, the university will overlook the Cyberplaza with its "flame" monument.

Othman Yeop Abdullah, chair of the board of the MMU, belied western stereotypes of Asian education when he stressed the need for "highly analytical and creative minds" and supported the idea of "learning as fun".

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