Sarawak has to do a lot of things in the process of digitalising the economy; firstly concrete steps must be taken to strengthen the multi-media and communication infrastructure to allow for high-speed Internet. However, the State Government, realising the enormous task of connecting all places with high speed Internet, especially in the mountainous and remote places, is determined to find ways and means to solve the problem of connectivity to such places.
The Chief Minister, Datuk Pat inggi Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Johari Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg, in his Acceptance Speech in conjunction with the Honorary Doctorate award of University College of Technology, Sibu, said this is the direction that Sarawak will take. He said the old economic development model cannot bring Sarawak to the forefront of digital development that the whole world is trying to arrive at. The State cannot wait for others to tell us what to do.
Nor can the State wait for help to come our way; it must decide its own destiny. He said the State, through Sarawak Foundation, has been able to send more students to study locally and overseas in various new disciplines. The first batch of 36 students has recently been awarded the TunTaib bursary to do studies up to PhD level. The State, which has awarded scholarships to 40 students to study medicine at UNIMAS, hopes to produce 200 doctors in the next five years.
It will give more medic scholarships to students to study at UNIMAS. Abang Johari said the award of many scholarships to local students is unprecedented in the history of Sarawak’s award of scholarship. This has been possible thanks to timber contractors of Sarawak Foundation, who have agreed to the increase of timber premium from 80 cents to RM50 per cubic metre for the sake of education in Sarawak.
Now, the State has RM300 million for educational purposes a year instead of a mere RM9 million previously. Hence, Yayasan Sarawak has been providing sponsorship and loans to thousands of young Sarawakians to pursue higher education in colleges and universities both inside and outside the country.
He described Tun Abdul Taib, who served as the fourth Chief Minister of Sarawak from March 26, 1981 to 28 February 2014, as a leader, who had given special attention to the development and progress of education in Sarawak, even though it is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Abang Johari, on behalf of the State Government and the people of Sarawak, warmly acknowledged the presence of the Yang di Pertua Negeri, Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud and his wife Toh Puan Datuk Patinggi Hajah Ragad Kurdi Taib, for their presence at the auspicious occasion.
He prayed that they will continue to be endowed with the blessing and protection of Allah SWT and will continue to serve as the umbrella of unity and solidarity of the Rakyat and the progress and advancement of the State of Sarawak, in the field of education in particular.
He recalled Tun Abdul Taib and his predecessors had taken necessary steps by using the resources available in the State to ensure young Sarawakians must be given opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills to prepare them for their roles in the development of the State. The State which once had no university could now boast a renowned national university namely University Malaysia Sarawak, which ranks No. 7 in the country and at least seven university and university college campuses .
Among them are Curtin University, Swinburne University, Kolej Laila Taib, University College Technology Sibu, UiTm and numerous technical schools. Abang Johari, who was a member of the State Cabinet since the midst 80s, gave assurance that the focus on education for the purpose of acquiring knowledge and developing the manpower and professionals in the State would be continued in a more vigorous way.
In the last cabinet reshuffle, he created a new Ministry, i.e. the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Research to spearhead efforts to upgrade the status of education, the study of STEM subjects and research activities in Sarawak. He assigned a minister to hold a watching brief for education in Sarawak as education is a federal matter. Admittedly, this is not sufficient because the State needs better focus and coordination to suit the needs and interests of the State.
He said the world today is driven by technology namely Digital technologies such as Big-Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Block chain and 3D printing that are now the platforms of economic transformation in many countries. There is hardly any business that is not getting transformed through technology advancement. Businesses and society at large are closely connected through ever faster communication channels and means of travel. Abang Johari said his just – concluded visit to Europe was to see first-hand how countries like Estonia that was once poor during the Soviet era, have boldly embraced digital technologies to totally transform their economies. He saw, for example, the Government and voting and banking services in those countries are all done digitally on mobile devices thus easing transaction, saving time and resources that can be used beneficially somewhere else.
He believed that the present over the counter mode of services will be obsolete as transactions can all practically be done on the palm of the hand. Abang Johari said Sarawak would soon launch e-payment system called ‘Sarawak Pay’ to provide a platform for many forms of transactions. He was impressed to see that even Estonia has things like ecitizen, which allows a citizen of the country do business without the physical presence of a person.
This shows how bold and innovative their ideas are which have made them successful in a relatively short period of time. Abang Johari thanked UCTS for conferring him with the Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business and Management, which he considered a great honour. He also feels honoured to be among the rest of the graduates on the auspicious occasion. He congratulated all the graduates and their parents and guardians and wished all of them success in their future undertakings.
He extended a warm welcome to all the graduates to contribute their parts to the development of Sarawak. The UCTS is 100% owned by the State Government with the objectives to produce skilled manpower required to support Sarawak’s industrialisation programme and also to provide access to quality higher education in the central region of Sarawak.
Besides, the University College has also been tasked to support Research and Development activities in order to add value to the vast bio-diversity resources available in the State. . Abang Johar i said human capacity is of utmost importance as part of the ecosystem that must be created to leapfrog from a conventional to a digital economy. Education with a focus on digital capability, innovation and creativity must therefore be at the centre of any long-term plan for Sarawak.
He i s happy to note that UCTS is already offering programmes of study in the fields of Software Engineering and Network Computing and carrying out research activities in the areas of Cyber security and Drone Technology. He called for more young Sarawakians to take up study courses and entrepreneurship opportunities that is related to the digital economy with the development of the economy heading towards that direction.
The convergence of advanced communication technology, energy systems and automation is driving change in all spheres, including businesses. Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is now a global phenomenon.
The only way for industries to compete in the future is by embracing technologies that are often very disruptive. Abang Johari suggested that UCTS should establish smart partnerships with industries, those in strategic sectors around Sibu in particular, to undertake research and innovation projects to prepare existing industries for the coming opportunities and challenges. Sibu is the hub for resourcebased industries with a number of major companies such as RH, WTK, KTS and Ta Ann and other industries having their headquarters in the town, once dubbed as thriving timber town.
He also proposed that UCTS establishes a Wood Technology Centre of Excellence in collaboration with Sarawak Timber Industry Development Coope rat ion (STIDC) and Sarawak Timber Association (STA) to support the timber industries to develop more innovative downstream wood products for the world market. He believed the local timber industries must undertake research and move into planted forest as it would not be sustainable if the industries continue to depend on natural forests. He further suggested that the Centre of Excellence can undertake research and support the introduction of new technologies and advanced processes in the timber industry from planted forest for it to be sustainable and continue to be a major economy in Sarawak alongside many others.
He would give his full support to strengthen the timber industries. Abang Johar i commended UCTS for having excellent, beautiful and high-tech Green campus that provides an environment that is conducive for teaching, learning and research. The State Government has invested substantially to provide the excellent facilities for the benefit of the future generation.
He congratulated all the graduates on their success and invited them to work together to make Sarawak the most developed part of Malaysia towards the year 2030 and beyond. However, what must be understood by the people, the new generation in particular, is that the history of Yayasan Sarawak cannot be separated from efforts of past leaders since the 60s in encouraging Bumiputras to pursue higher education up to the level of university together with other groups.
The Bumiputras, at that time, had been left far behind because of their late history of involvement in education.
For example, the late Apai Tun Jugah (Tun Datuk Patinggi Jugah anak Barieng, the former Federal Minister of Sarawak Affairs), emphasised every time he met the late Tun Abdul Rahman (TunHaji Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, a former Chief Minister and Governor of Sarawak) and other leaders of Parikatan at that time) the need to ensure that Bumiputra children would not be left behind in pursuit of higher education.
The late Datuk Patinggi Haji Adenan Satem, the fifth Chief Minister of Sarawak and former Chairman of Yayasan Sarawak played an important role in ensuring that the programs being carried out by Yayasan Sarawak must produce more Bumiputra children coming out from the institutions of higher learning both inside and outside the country.
For thi s reason, Yayasan Sarawak can be considered as the pillar in the struggle for higher education for all the people, the Bumiputras in particular, who must be given the necessary support and assistance until they can come up with new and better programmes in future.