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joe_plumber
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« Reply #165 on: April 19, 2012, 7:58:48 PM »

Among the many new initiatives at UBD is the setting up a range of new institutes and centres intended as the engines that will transform it into an international research university (just look at the most recent job ads on the website). But on closer inspection and with a little historical background knowledge, some of these initiatives don't seem quite as innovative as they are presented to be. Of course the new UBD-IBM Centre was already discussed in previous postings.

Take another example, the new 'SOAS Centre for Islamic Studies', which "aims to generate world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies". For readers not familiar with UBD one should explain that the abbreviation SOAS here stands for the initials of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the present Sultan's father, not of the well-known School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which also has a Centre for Islamic Studies (SOAS-CIS). A few years ago UBD's Faculty of Islamic Studies was transformed into a separate university specialising in Islamic religious subjects. After the establishment of the new university (and the upgrading of the former religious teachers training college into a 'University College'), it was felt by some that there was a vacuum in UBD in religious matters that needed to be filled. Since nobody could say no to such suggestions, Brunei now has three religious institutions of higher learning.

Or take the new Institute of Policy Studies: For years there had been an Institute of Policy Studies as well as a Department of Public Policy, but these had been driven into decline on the grounds that there was no demand for Policy Studies graduates in the public sector and the university should stop training students who expected government jobs. To conduct research on policy issues a separate Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies was then set up outside to university. But now UBD is getting back into the game again with its own Institute for Policy Studies, which as usual aims at nothing less than world-class status.

Or take the Institute of Leadership, Innovation, and Advancement, which, rather ironically for an institution concerned with leadership, has been without a leader for a couple of years now! Its mission is" to develop outstanding real world leaders in public, private and social sectors" by promoting leadership training to other government agencies and the wider community at large and in the process become a profit-making enterprise for the university. But the other government agencies don't want to pay for the training provided by UBD and outside the Institute has to  compete with all kinds of other public and private sector organisations (such as Civil Service Institute or Shell) offering similar training and as a result is losing money rather than making it. No wonder that two of its captains have left the sinking ship, and it's difficult to find a new one. 

Or take the just announced Faculty of Integrated Science and 'Techonology' (as the job ad on the UBD website puts it). UBD of course already has a Faculty of Science, but the new faculty is supposed to be more applied and technology-oriented. But then next to the UBD campus there is already the Institute of Technology Brunei (and recently a new Polytechnic has also been established). So now Brunei is going to have three technology-oriented institutions of higher learning.

It looks like the prevailing philosophy is that all good things come in threes.  Perhaps the underlying assumption is that competition promotes excellence. But one has to wonder how rational it is for a small country to spread its limited resources (both financial and in terms of expert manpower) so widely for overlapping and competing purposes rather than concentrating them. But perhaps it's not an issue of promoting competition between institutions, but of empire-building by individuals.
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freire
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« Reply #166 on: April 19, 2012, 8:16:21 PM »

To add one more example to the previous posting, three years ago the Finnish teacher training model was introduced at UBD and undergraduate programmes in the Faculty of Education were phased out and teacher training concentrated at the MA level only. Now it turns out that after six years of studying, 'MA Teach' graduates don't want to go into early childhood and primary education, and there will soon be a huge shortage of teachers at that level. So the Diploma of Education has turned up again, but this time not in the Faculty of Education, but in the Centre of Continuing Education (but taught by the Education Faculty). The administration keeps on re-inventing the wheel and then trying to sell it as yet another of its innovations.
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bakunin
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« Reply #167 on: April 20, 2012, 4:26:02 AM »

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I think this UBD bashing has gone far too much, and there are positive things one should consider in working at UBD. There are many advantages accruing from a peaceful environment and with many amenities provided. Luxury housing (Sometimes 7 or more bedrooms), reasonable medical cover (free medicines and treatment cover with some limitations), and a good social   environment for the children to learn and grow, and ample free time to pursue research, no one looking over one's shoulders, often much less teaching load, reasonable research grant and leave etc., etc.,. There are facilities for leisure activities, boating, kayaking, hashing, and traveling to exotic neighboring territories and what not? In fact many academics have benefitted from their association with UBD  having completed many contracts, some even exceeding 25 years in service. Many of those who served in UBD have fared well in other overseas universities. Certainly UBD, being a young university, do not provide a high research environment like Oxbridge campuses or the American Harvard University.  But much can be achieved by genuine academics who wish to make contributions to a host nation which gives them reasonable salaries and comfort. UBD may not deserve such undue condemnation to say the least.
The big problem is that UBD is like a small family, literally because of its small size. Therefore the Vice Chancellor's presence or absence (and that applies to his academic advisor and other policy makers also) are felt personally by everyone unlike in big universities where one may not even know the name of a Vice Chancellor. So all policy decisions such as contract renewal, transfers, promotions etc exercised in the upper echelons of the university becomes personal matters to all academics involved.

Those who want to pursue a career in UBD must read the negative messages with a pinch of salt although no doubt many things in UBD need to be and can be fixed, especially the top heavy nature of the administration and their indifferent and haughty attitude towards their academic colleagues.


Dayanganak raises some valid points, but he confuses three issues:

First, few would dispute that living in Brunei has many positive sides. Yes, housing is better than in many comparable jobs elsewhere (although for new faculty the decrease in the housing allowance has also meant a decline in housing standards), public healthcare is free (although the quality is uneven and some treatments are not available), private international schools are good (although the education allowance now only covers about 60% of the cost). It's very safe and it's a beautiful natural environment. But there are also downsides to life in Brunei: as far as entertainment and the cultural scene is concerned, it's pretty barren. I am not talking clubbing, but concerts, theatre, dance, art, or a stimulating intellectual events are rare occurrences, partly because of limited interest, and partly because of strict censorship. Entertainment is mostly at home and consists of (very cheap) pirated DVDs. So life in Brunei has some big advantages, and some big disadvantages. Expats usually leave very quickly, or they stay for very long.

Second, one major source of frustration is the Kafkaeque bureaucracy. This is by no means limited to UBD, but affects everybody living in Brunei, especially those working for the government, such as UBD lecturers. But with a combination of patience and insight (as one of the previous posts mentioned, the bureaucracy is so huge because it provides employment for a huge chunk of the local population), it can be tolerated, particularly if one takes into consideration that the inefficiency slows the pace of modern life. People are here precisely because this is not Singapore. Anyway, the bureaucracy is nothing one can hold the UBD management responsible for. I am sure they are even more frustrated about it than many of the academics.

Third, my reading of this thread is that it is neither about Brunei-bashing, nor about UBD-bashing as such, but about calling the bluffs of the current UBD senior management team, or whatever they call themselves. And here I see anakdayang seems to be in agreement with most of the postings when he criticises the "top heavy nature of the administration and their indifferent and haughty attitude towards their academic colleagues." Well said, anakdayang!
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qrypt
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« Reply #168 on: April 20, 2012, 4:36:57 AM »

I have a question -- please forgive me if it seems ignorant.  Can one be openly Jewish in Brunei? 
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awg_budiman
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« Reply #169 on: April 20, 2012, 5:07:16 AM »

Quote
I have a question -- please forgive me if it seems ignorant.  Can one be openly Jewish in Brunei? 

Being Jewish is no problem, but Israeli citizens are not allowed to enter.
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peter_kropotkin
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« Reply #170 on: April 20, 2012, 8:48:45 AM »

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So all policy decisions such as contract renewal, transfers, promotions etc exercised in the upper echelons of the university becomes personal matters to all academics involved.  

Decisions about "contract renewals, transfers and promotions" are not "policy decisions" at all, but personnel decisions. If such decisions are not taken in a transparent manner in accordance with stated policies, applicable regulations, and appropriate procedures, it is only to be expected that they are assumed to based on the personal whims of the decision-makers. In a small institution with little impersonal space, it should be particularly important that such decisions are seen to be made on the basis of rules and regulations in order to avoid any suspicions that they might be based purely on personal considerations.  
« Last Edit: April 20, 2012, 8:52:37 AM by peter_kropotkin » Logged
olddrone
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« Reply #171 on: April 20, 2012, 10:49:36 AM »

"Take another example, the new 'SOAS Centre for Islamic Studies', which "aims to generate world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies". For readers not familiar with UBD one should explain that the abbreviation SOAS here stands for the initials of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the present Sultan's father, not of the well-known School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which also has a Centre for Islamic Studies (SOAS-CIS). A few years ago UBD's Faculty of Islamic Studies was transformed into a separate university specialising in Islamic religious subjects. After the establishment of the new university (and the upgrading of the former religious teachers training college into a 'University College'), it was felt by some that there was a vacuum in UBD in religious matters that needed to be filled. Since nobody could say no to such suggestions, Brunei now has three religious institutions of higher learning."

Since UBD is excellent with its semantic gamesmanship, may I suggest a revision in the SOAS abbreviation?  By adding an R (standing for the much-touted "Research") in the mix and dropping the last "S," the SOAS, it can be "SOAR," a better acronym. 

Or to be realistic, one can drop the middle "A" as in SOS.

Agreed.  The CIS could be a misspelling of CSI; UBD could mean "Ultimate  Brunei Dead."

After all, this school is the best one I have seen in constant and deceptive word-smithing.

Third-rate institutions live by motto that changes in every two years: the most popular one is "Do More with Less."
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philip_swallow
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« Reply #172 on: April 20, 2012, 7:34:28 PM »

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There had been retired professors who served more than decades in Brunei who had  lovely time throughout their stay at UBD. They used UBD to store their library holdings, hardly turn up to their offices during working hours, teaching at most only one course per semester, hardly gave any public talks, never researched or gave back anything tot Brunei. All these while having enjoyed medical and other benefits for them and their families, entertained international friends in his university provided luxury homes, and travelled abroad with University research leave and money more often than not. But when they left UBD keep on talking about the evils of living in Brunei?

Given that there are only about a dozen professors among the academic staff of more than 300, it is easy for any insider to figure out that this is a rather personal attack on a particular individual.

Anakdagang seems to belong to the If-I-pay-you, you-dance-to-my-pipe school of thought that equates being critical with being ungrateful. After all he calls UBD a "family", and that's how it usually is in a good old-fashioned family.

Anakdagang also seems to belong a school of thought commonly found in bureaucracies that equates adherence to working hours with output productivity. Perhaps one should ask what this professor was doing when he wasn't sitting in his office?  His publication output speaks for itself. Or ask the students he supervised how much time he spent with them. Not sitting in the office during working hours doesn't mean being on holiday, just as sitting around in the office daily from 8 to 12 and 1.30 to 4.30 doesn't mean being a productive academic.
« Last Edit: April 20, 2012, 7:36:00 PM by philip_swallow » Logged
joe_plumber
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« Reply #173 on: April 20, 2012, 7:48:38 PM »

Quote
UBD could mean "Ultimate  Brunei Dead."

After all, this school is the best one I have seen in constant and deceptive word-smithing.

Third-rate institutions live by motto that changes in every two years: the most popular one is "Do More with Less."

In computer science lingo, ubd usually stands for "user brain damaged". But the students themselves came up with the pretty smart alternative "Useless Bachelor Degree".
« Last Edit: April 20, 2012, 7:50:33 PM by joe_plumber » Logged
hayy_yaqdhan
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« Reply #174 on: April 21, 2012, 9:22:16 PM »

Quote
"Take another example, the new 'SOAS Centre for Islamic Studies', which "aims to generate world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies". For readers not familiar with UBD one should explain that the abbreviation SOAS here stands for the initials of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the present Sultan's father, not of the well-known School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which also has a Centre for Islamic Studies (SOAS-CIS). A few years ago UBD's Faculty of Islamic Studies was transformed into a separate university specialising in Islamic religious subjects. After the establishment of the new university (and the upgrading of the former religious teachers training college into a 'University College'), it was felt by some that there was a vacuum in UBD in religious matters that needed to be filled. Since nobody could say no to such suggestions, Brunei now has three religious institutions of higher learning."

The idea of a Centre for Islamic Studies that "generate(s) world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies which explores contemporary issues and perspectives of Islam", currently seems rather out of place in Brunei. Islam can only be seen through the prism of the official state ideology of Malay Muslim Monarchy (MIB) according to which the Sultan is only accountable to God, not to the people. He must therefore be seen to uphold Islam , which is the central source of legitimacy of the state.
 
Consequently all religious discourse is tightly controlled by the 'Aqidah Control Unit' (Faith Control Unit) of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Any religious book that comes into the country or is locally produced requires approval by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. If one orders a book on Islam from amazon.com, it first goes to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Sufi, Shi'a, Salafi or any other understanding of Islam deemed as not in line with the official understanding is prohibited and, if it is deemed to be dangerous, branded as "deviationism", which is a legal offense. A few years ago, for example, I was told (by the current Minister of Religious Affairs) to take a book by an Iranian Shi'a author off my reading list, even though the book wasn't even about Shi'ism.
 
When it comes to Islam, the parameters of discussion are so narrow as to make the sort of scholarly dialogue essential for research impossible. All that can be done is to compile evidence and construct arguments that support the official religious discourse, but never any that might question it. Research is reduced to its very opposite: dogmatic repetition of existing knowledge, not the production of new knowledge by critically examining and systematically questioning received knowledge.
 
What reputed scholar of the contemporary Muslim World would risk their reputation to work at such a Centre under such conditions? And how could such a Centre possibly "generate world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies which explores contemporary issues and perspectives of Islam" ?   
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hallaj
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« Reply #175 on: April 22, 2012, 8:07:05 PM »

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And how could such a Centre possibly "generate world-class research in the field of Islamic Studies which explores contemporary issues and perspectives of Islam" ? 


Outsider observers are usually only pre-occupied with the position of non-Muslims in Brunei. One of the previous posts asked about Jews. The US Embassy cables on Wikileaks reveal that US diplomats repeatedly raised the issue of restrictions on Christians with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Western embassies are making representations to the government about compulsory Islamic religious education for non-Muslims, many of whom are Buddhist.
 
But this overlooks that restrictions on Muslims are in fact more severe than those put on non-Muslims. Despite its rather transparent function to legitimize a very unique political system, the official reading of Islam is defined as 'pure Islam' ("Islam tulen"), and any other reading is dismissed as mere 'interpretation' and therefore subjective and potentially contrary to Islam. This applies to all alternative readings, whether 'liberal' reformist, 'traditional' Sufi, or 'fundamentalist' Salafi or any other. So it is indeed difficult to imagine how in such a context lively intellectual debates and world-class research can be carried in Islamic Studies.

It will be interesting to see how the Centre develops: Is it a concession to alleviate the fears of religious conservatives that UBD's drive into the Top 50 will turn it too much into a "first class international university" and that it will loose its "distinctive national identity"? Or is it an attempt to connect to alternative religious discourses that have wider resonance in the Muslim World instead of merely focusing on Malay Islamic Monarchy?
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john_wilson
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« Reply #176 on: April 24, 2012, 6:01:48 AM »

Institute of Leadership, Innovation and Advancement... SOAS Centre for Islamic Studies... UBD-IBM Centre... Institute of Asian Studies... Institute of Policy Studies... and so on:  They are either just empty buildings or they don't even have a building.

Does anybody on campus know where they all are? Does any of them have a Director? Does any of them even have any academic staff? Does any of them have any functioning research facilities? Does any of them even have a decent website?

But, never mind, they advertise themselves as aspiring world class research institutions (after all, the motto is: "if we don't say it, we wont do it"). If UBD were a corporation selling some commodity or other (and the currently leadership is trying to run it on a corporate model), it would surely be in the dock for false advertising.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2012, 6:02:44 AM by john_wilson » Logged
bangsy
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« Reply #177 on: April 24, 2012, 6:19:22 AM »

UBD may not be world class in many areas, but you've got to give it to them, it's got world class spin doctors who make even the shroudest second-hand car dealers look like little kids. But caveat emptor! The problem is that their rhetorical talents  wear thin after about half an hour, when it becomes obvious that they don't have anything new to say, or anything of substance to say, and just keep on repeating themselves. Repetition is the rationality of fools.

« Last Edit: April 24, 2012, 6:22:30 AM by bangsy » Logged
bakunin
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« Reply #178 on: April 26, 2012, 6:19:44 AM »

Perhaps it's time for a pause to reflect. Amidst lots of polemics, two recurring, contradictory themes: The top management team portray themselves as engaged in an entrepreneurial act of 'creative destruction' transforming UBD into a modern institution that is not only run by entrepreneurs but also produces entrepreneurs. The critics dismiss this as PR eyewash and portray the management as running the university like a private fiefdom, ultimately to advance their own political careers rather than to build the institution.

To understand this paradox it helps to take a look at the rather surprising prominence of 'entrepreneurialism', not just in UBD but in official government discourse in Brunei: Entrepreneurs will transform an unsustainable economic system dependent on the export of non-renewable energy, without the need to change anything else, especially not the 'traditional' political system. Entrepreneurialism will bring economic diversification and provide jobs for the growing number of young people for whom neither the overblown public sector nor the small private sector can provide employment, and who might otherwise become a source of political instability in future. The entrepreneur as a non-political agent of change who creates a 'modern' economic system and thereby takes the pressure off the 'traditional' political system.

That's where UBD comes into the picture. Its mission is to train this new class of entrepreneurial leaders who  will create jobs for themselves and for others like them, and thereby reduce the pool of young, restive un(der)employed. The plan is eagerly supported by the stream of foreign management consultants passing through the country peddling their standard fare of tuppence wisdoms for a fortune. They know nothing of Brunei, because if they did, they would have to face the fact that what might work back home in Michigan, is bound to fail in Gadong.

The trouble is that entrepreneurship is not simply a teachable technical craft like carpentry, but it is a type of behaviour that emerges and is reinforced under specific social conditions. Entrepreneurial capitalism developed in areas beyond the grip of absolutist rulers in which merchant capitalists held power and instituted legal systems that protected private property from the arbitrary will and acquisitive impulses of  absolute rulers.
It is therefore ironic that entrepreneurialism is supposed to flourish in one of the very last absolute monarchies left today that is kept on life support only through the constant flow of oil revenues. Brunei is simply not the kind of environment in which entrepreneurship can work its magic. Apart from the simple economic realities of a tiny domestic market and the difficulties of exporting anything due to high domestic costs, the political and legal environment is antithetical to the growth of entrepreneurial leadership. The Sultan is the sole executive and legislative authority and cannot be held accountable in any court of law, because he is the authority that constitutes the courts, nor can anybody be held accountable who acts on his behalf.

As a result public policy, whether educational, economic, or in any other sphere, is erratic, unpredictable and trial-and-error. There is simply no public sphere in which policy matters can be openly and rationally discussed because that would constitute an infringement of the absolutist rights of the Sultan. For the same reason there can be no mechanisms for legal or political accountability.

Take, for example, the recent announcement of retroactive legislation according to which all properties bought through a Power of Attorney are now converted into temporary leaseholds, which affects tens of thousands of stateless permanent residents and foreign businessmen settled in Brunei who are now tenants in the properties they had believed belonged to them. Or take the Ali Baba racket where any successful business will attract the attention of a politically well connected personage, who will insert themselves into the business as its patron to ensure that lucrative government contracts come its way, in return for a cut of the profits. In reality it is not in the interest of the ruling elite to let new sources of wealth outside its control emerge in the society because that would lead to the emergence of a new class of entrepreneurs and businessmen that is no longer directly dependent on the state and might eventually challenge it.

All this is perfectly normal in any feudal system worth its name because the state is the private property of its ruler, but in the context of free market capitalism it is institutionalised kleptocracy. The only capitalism such a system can sustain is crony capitalism, which does not open up new economic opportunities, but merely reinforced existing social inequalities.

Given that this is how the system works, it is also not surprising that, however genuine and sincere their  original motives and goals might have been, the 'entrepreneurship' of the UBD leaders too has degenerated into the arbitrary exercise of power and institutionalised cronyism. Like it or not, that's how the system works, and if you want to succeed within the system, you have to play by these rules. Caught between an inert and unresponsive system and their own grandiose ambitions of changing the world, they have to make do with PR stunts to gloss over failures.

This political and economic system can only sustain itself  because the state's revenue does not come out of the people's pockets, but out of the oil wells of the nation, and some of it flows into the pockets of the people (including free university education). Instead of the people funding the state, the state pays the people. That's the social contract: Rule-by-carrot. The government looks after you, so be grateful and don't ask questions. No taxation, no representation. But it is becoming clear that in the long term this social contract is not sustainable as it is coming under growing strain from declining oil production and an increasing young population. 

If one really wanted to create an environment conducive to entrepreneurship, one would need legal and political reforms first, and for that to happen one needs politicians, not entrepreneurs. But that would mean that the university should produce politically conscious public entrepreneurs who would push for greater public representation, more transparency and accountability in an unsustainable and anachronistic economic and political system. This is what student movements elsewhere in the region have done in the face of institutionalised crony capitalisms.

And that's precisely the worst fear of the powers that be. To avoid such dangerous course of events, it has become UBD's mission to preach the virtues of non-political entrepreneurship to its students, most of whom are bound to fail, if they really ever try it. But the moral logic of the entrepreneurship is such that failure is individualised. So instead of impatiently waiting in the long queue for increasingly scarce public sector jobs and blaming the government for their misery, they are supposed to face the inexorable logic of the 'free' market with nobody else to blame for their failures but themselves.

In this way a state that refuses to let go of its total political and economic domination of society, seeks to divest itself of its increasingly unsustainable economic responsibility of providing jobs to its youth by passing the buck on to them. But to whom will they pass the buck eventually? 
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lars_en
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« Reply #179 on: April 26, 2012, 3:54:42 PM »

jobs http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/jobs_jobdetails.asp?ac=93075
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