The University of Hong Kong (HKU) aims to develop itself into a 'digital campus' through two key initiatives. It wants to increase the computer proficiency of all students, while also increasing research and development in the Java programming language. Starting this year, all students must achieve a passing grade in an IT proficiency test, or complete a university IT proficiency course, to graduate. Students living on-campus also will have network and Internet connections in their accommodation. First-year students also can buy IBM notebook computers at a heavy discount. An IBM Pentium MMX 233 MHz notebook PC, including accessories, will cost about $5,000, just 25 per cent of its retail price. This reverses initial plans to give notebook PCs free to all first-year students, announced last year in the aftermath of optimism generated by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's call to boost IT in education. University officials had been overly optimistic last year about the prices vendors would offer in bidding to supply the students, said one source. 'They thought they could get the computers dirt cheap,' the source said. 'But all of the tenders were terribly high.' Computer purchases for first-year students are being subsidised mostly by the university and partially through discounts from IBM. Second-year and third-year students will not have purchases subsidised, but IBM is offering discounts. The digital campus concept was formed, according to Dr Nam Ng, director of the computer centre, because the university felt IT would become important for the future development of education in the university. Networks and servers are being upgraded and installed at a cost of $40 million. Each student's room will have local area network access. Teachers also are being encouraged to place course work and lecture notes on-line, according to Dr Ng. In a separate initiative, the university last week announced it had become the world's first 'authorised academic Java campus'. The Java campus is aimed mostly at computer science and graduate students. Lecturers will teach more Java classes, and Java-based research with commercial potential by students will be encouraged through internships and collaboration between companies and HKU students. Sun Microsystems, the creator of Java, is donating about $1.5 million in the form of servers and workstations. The Java campus was part of Sun's attempts to establish Java as language commonly taught in classrooms, like C or Pascal, according to Ricky Lo, Sun's Hong Kong sales manager of academic research. The university was chosen as the first Java campus, according to Kim Jones, vice-president of academic and research computing at Sun, because its students already were using Java to develop applications for practical needs. One application was a stock ordering and checking system designed for intranets. It was developed by HKU students in conjunction with the Lippo Group, which plans to implement it soon. 'Java-trained graduates will be important for development of our broadband video-centric set-top box,' said William Lo, managing director of Hongkong Telecom IMS, which relies heavily on Java applications to run its iTV service. The Java campus office is on university property and all instructors will be HKU staff. More than half of the Java teaching material will be developed by the university. Java research will be directed into more commercially viable areas. Jerome Yen, deputy director of the Java campus, said. HKU hopes students will produce Java applications that will be useful immediately to business while Java centres such as Automated System will focus on back-end and more technical applications. K.C. Kwong, Secretary for IT and Broadcasting, said 'such initiatives will improve Hong Kong's competitiveness and efficiency'. 'Both are quite bold since they are the first ones that have been agreed upon in Hong Kong, and even Asia. These moves will help future students to make use good of IT and technology when learning and research,' he said.