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Dr Syed described Unitar's virtual education concept as a hybrid, middle-ground approach--a combination of conventional, face-to-face instruction and online, multimedia delivery.

Students are given CD-ROM courseware and have online access to lecturers but are also required to attend tutorials and exams at Unitar's 12 study centers nationwide that serve as "mini campuses".

"At the centers, students meet and interact with professors and other students, use computer facilities and do research in our library. Students may visit the study center once a week or once a month depending on course requirements, but generally will have to attend a minimum three tutorials per semester per course," he said.

Dr Syed believed the hybrid model would stay for some time as some courses such as engineering still require hands-on experiments and warm body supervision. "But the distributed campus model we have adopted is far more cost-effective than a conventional centralized campus," he said.

The university currently offers mainly information technology and business administration programs but plans to expand its offerings in future.

Next January, private college Kolej Damansara Utama (KDU) is offering American degrees and Master's programs through collaboration with Tuoro University International (TUI) in California, an US-accredited virtual university.

KDU chief executive Dr B. C. Tan said students stand to save dramatically in tuition costs for the program, which is about US$13,160 compared to attending an average four-year degree program in the US of about US$72,000 or US$ 36,000 for 2+2 twinning program. "It has the added benefit of minimizing the brain drain often associated with Malaysian students studying in America and not returning," he said.

Dr Tan said the TUI-developed "cyber classroom" concept encourages more interaction with threaded discussion lists, real-time collaboration, live audio and video class conferences, and individual conferences between faculty and students. "There is at least twice as much interaction online than in the traditional classroom," said Dr Tan.

He added that students would also be able to get full text access to TUI's cyber library with over 8,000 academic and professional journals and over 1,000 newspapers from around the world. "This information is well organized with powerful search engines and instantly available to the students anytime and anywhere," he said.



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