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By Julian Matthews
October 29, 1999

Jalaluddin Abdul Halim once took long, lonely bus rides to--and from Ipoh city from the remote estate off Bruas where he lived and worked--a journey of nearly 100km--just to attend accounting classes.

"Sometimes I would reach home at 3am and have to go to work the next day," he said. The trips also entailed leaving his wife and young children thrice a week to fend for themselves.

But his determination eventually paid off. In 1992, he obtained his diploma which led to a subsequent rise in pay and broadened his career options.

Currently a finance manager in an estate management firm, 41-year-old Jalaluddin has hit the paper chase trail again. Only this time he needn't make those exhausting commutes.

This month, he signed on for an online business degree with virtual university Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (Unitar).

"I wanted a course with little or no classroom activity and this was ideal. I can do it from home. It's flexible and I don't have to bear the costs of traveling or lodging elsewhere, " said Jalaluddin who currently resides in Ipoh.

The father of five school-going children says the program has the twin advantage of enabling him to learn about the Internet, and get familiar with new accounting software for his present office.

"You can't get into information technology unless you use it," he said. Enthused about embarking on his new modem adventures, Jalaluddin foresees only one minor problem ahead--sharing the computer with his kids.

"I may have to wait till they all go to bed, but that's better than the hassle of all those bus rides," he said.

Jalaluddin is among thousands seeking to better themselves at their own time, place and pace through Web-enabled distance learning. The Internet has changed what was once a slow and clunky process--via correspondence, TV and videotapes--to something far more personal and interactive. There is a surge in interest of "keyboard colleges" globally offering everything from certificate level to PhD programs.

The concept of a virtual varsity is still fairly new in Malaysia, but judging from its rapid adoption it will definitely give bricks-and-mortar universities a run for their money.

Pioneering Unitar has already set a blistering pace. From a batch of only 300 last September, the university's enrolment has shot up to 3,415 students--3,046 in the undergraduate programs and 369 others pursuing postgraduate courses.

"Our target market is working adults and high school certificate and diploma holders, while housewives and senior citizens will feature fast as students of the future. We also plan to take in foreign students," said Dr Syed Othman Alhabshi, Unitar's president and chief executive.


Julian Matthews is the Malaysian correspondent for CNET Malaysia. Email us your comments.


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