Conclusion: AKU Onwards


Obstacles to AKU's ambitions will not cease to arise in the years ahead. Change in our various contexts will be ongoing – if anything, it looks likely to accelerate. The University must keep one eye fixed on the horizon, evolving and adapting to new circumstances. At the same time, it must keep its founding vision firmly before it. A great university is not built in a few decades, or even in a lifetime.

AKU's purpose must remain lucid and constant, transcending the generations even as it is reborn in each new generation's passion and commitment.[41]

Over the past two years, the Chancellor's Commission has observed AKU navigate exceedingly turbulent waters—a global pandemic, economic and political turmoil, and devastating crises caused by a changing climate—with extraordinary deftness. We have also reflected on the tremendous progress and impact the University has made in a comparatively short a time. Its achievements are a testament to the foresight of His Highness the Aga Khan's vision for the institution, the enduring relevance of its founding mission and values, and AKU's inspired leadership, dedicated supporters and partners, and remarkable faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

That record of progress has inspired confidence in the Commissioners that bold ambitions are not only possible but essential to meet the needs and opportunities of new generations. That said, we are clear-eyed about the significant constraints and uncertainties that lie ahead, and the difficulties these pose in setting even short-term plans for the institution, let alone a course for the next quarter century. Throughout our deliberations, we identified a number of significant 'paradoxes', or tensions and trade-offs, that AKU's leaders will have to address in the decades ahead, particularly in balancing its core IQRA values and its developmental mission in the Global South with the institution's financial health and long-term sustainability. We have situated our recommendations on issues of finance and other resource requirements, including those most essential resources—the time and energy of those who work at and with AKU—in an academic and strategic context.

Accordingly, this second Chancellor's Commission has largely framed its guidance around strategic planning and operating principles for the University, rather than specific proposals for new components of the future AKU. This approach builds on our assessment of the trends and issues affecting AKU's operating environments, and the understanding that future Trustees and Administrations may need to shift course rapidly to respond to unforeseen developments or emerging opportunities. We have also deliberately sought to present guidance that would contribute to AKU's current development of its five-year strategic work plan, AKU Onwards, without infringing on governance, administrative, academic, or operational concerns. 

AKU in Unusually Uncertain Times

The Commission's observations on global geopolitical, economic, and social conditions reveal a far more complex and volatile operating environment for AKU than when the last commission reported in 1994. Moreover, AKU itself has changed dramatically in that time. No longer a small institution focused on the health sciences in Pakistan, both the present and the future AKU must be carefully attuned to the local and regional impacts of global forces, whether they be climate change, geopolitical and demographic shifts, artificial intelligence, economic crises, inequality, or resurgent nationalism.

Similarly, our scan of the global higher education landscape in which AKU operates finds a dramatically changed and unsettled sector, particularly in the Global South. From the proliferation of private universities to fundamental shifts in the design and delivery of academic programmes—accelerated by the global COVID-19 pandemic as well as advances in information technology and AI—AKU will need to reassess how it benchmarks and evaluates its programmes; where it finds its peers, partners, and networks; and how it continues to deliver quality education, research, and healthcare that is impactful, relevant, and accessible to the increasingly diverse constituencies its serves.

Our analysis of the changes in the world and in the state of higher education globally offer a framework more relevant for near-term decisions that the University must make than a confident forecast of what circumstances the future AKU will encounter. With a renewed commitment to its mission and values, a set of proposed 'navigational' principles, and growth focused in areas of greatest opportunity and need, we are confident that the future AKU will be the 'great university' envisioned by its Founder.

A Renewed Commitment to AKU's Mission and Values

The Commissioners strongly endorse the institution's mission and believe its four core values—Impact, Quality, Relevance, and Access [IQRA]—remain distinctive and highly relevant to AKU's global and local operating contexts. We recommend them as continuing touchstones in reflection, planning, and evaluation in the decades ahead. The Commissioners base the following recommendations on a renewed commitment to IQRA.


Recommendation 1: Identify the attributes and core competencies AKU seeks to develop in all its graduates, in light of the impact they could have as leaders, change agents, citizens of the world, or citizens of their disciplines. One attribute the Commission proposes: AKU's graduates should be imbued with a spirit of pluralism. Track progress in implementation of pedagogical, extra-curricular, and experiential learning opportunities that might reinforce those competencies.

Recommendation 2: Consider partnerships—broadly defined to include other universities, governments, the corporate sector, professional associations, civil society, and other AKDN entities—as essential in developing a strategic roadmap for AKU. In particular, deepen, strengthen, and diversify AKU's connections to other AKDN agencies and institutions to enhance its impact on quality of life in the Global South. And as South-South collaborations will take on even greater importance for AKU in the years ahead, avoid overreliance on institutions in North America, the UK, and Europe, striking a geopolitical balance (Global South and North, East, and West; in-country and international) in the partnerships AKU pursues.


Recommendation 3: Define and develop AKU's own parameters of quality, viewing global rankings with interest but remaining wary of measures that do not also reflect its own values of impact, relevance, and access. AKU could frame its quality indicators around the Sustainable Development Goals in a way that speaks authentically to impact on quality of life, especially in the Global South.

Recommendation 4: Ensure AKU can maintain the high quality of existing programmes before expanding into new fields and offerings, even if that means slower and more deliberate growth than might be urged by the needs or wishes of AKU's constituencies.


Recommendation 5: Identify areas in which AKU can position itself to deliver lifelong learning programmes, including re-skilling and upskilling, that are essential for future workers and leaders.

Recommendation 6: Align AKU's current and planned programmes with the health and social needs of communities in the Global South, with priority placed on addressing the urgent challenge of climate change in AKU and AKDN geographies. This includes allocating the majority of research-related resources to projects that can have positive, near-term impacts on the health and broader well-being of those living in the Global South.

Recommendation 7: Reaffirm AKU's faith-inspired values and identity as a university of and for the Muslim world, and of and for the Global South, through programmes that embrace the humanities, promote pluralism, foster sustainable development, and address the urgent challenges of climate change.


Recommendation 8: Develop deliberate strategies to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion are valued and promoted in all AKU's operations, structures, processes, governance, and institutional culture, in particular maintaining its historical commitments to gender equity, the empowerment of women and girls, and the provision of opportunities for women to achieve upward mobility and work to their full capacity.

Recommendation 9: Develop a strong suite of digital/virtual learning options for students at all stages to expand access to higher education and lifelong learning, without weakening support for a rich panoply of on-campus experiences and experiential learning opportunities.

Recommendation 10: Consider the adoption of needs-sensitive admissions strategies with a view to optimising access broadly while continuing to help students with the most limited resources. Similarly, explore novel financing mechanisms to sustain access to AKU's healthcare services.

Strategic Planning Principles and Processes

In this time of accelerating change, sustainability remains a core concern, and the greatest strategic issue, and tension, will be how to balance a continued focus on excellence in areas where AKU already has considerable strength with further expansion. While AKU is a markedly different institution than it was 40 years ago, the advice of the Harvard Committee—reiterated by the first Chancellor's Commission—remains apt:

As a small institution it has to be, as our predecessors said, 'distinctive in substance or quality or both" if it is to be important in the [Global South and the Muslim world]; and this has meant that in the midst of the present abundance of higher education it ought not try to be a “big conventional university" with the familiar array of schools and faculties.[42]   

This Commission builds on that guidance to inform a proposed set of strategic planning principles and processes centred on 'focused agility', 'continuous evaluation', and 'strategic and efficient growth', relevant to both near- and longer-term decisions AKU must make. As well, we recommend principles and processes to embed diversity, equity, inclusion, and pluralism across the institution.

AKU's future models for growth—a new growth ethos—should be less top-down and more incremental, building from and budding off existing capacities in response to clear needs, and prioritising the successful establishment of major new, resource-intensive initiatives already underway at the writing of this report. In general, the University should not overstretch its administrative and fiscal capacity in pursuit of 'ideal types' for universities seen elsewhere. But it should diversify governance and leadership personnel as well as partners and networks; reconsider the nature and timing of its planning cycles; and align its planning and benchmarking more closely to the UN Sustainable Development Goals [SDG] framework. 

Focused Agility informed by Continuous Evaluation

Recommendation 11: Be prudent and discerning in the launch of other education and research programmes while the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is being established. Other new launches already in train—including the undergraduate medical and nursing education programmes in Kenya—should also be carefully and selectively nurtured.

Recommendation 12: Avoid the creation of completely new fixed structures with new administrative overheads, such as departments, colleges, schools, faculties. Instead, consider using 'centres' as experimental units, building from and budding off of existing capacities and areas of proven strength.

Recommendation 13: Continue to diversify personnel for the University's governance and leadership, away from the past preponderance of the Global North and West. Maintain a strategic balance—geopolitically, and between within-country and international candidates—in both recruitment of future trustees and senior leaders and in the selection of partnerships and networks. 

Recommendation 14: Reconsider the nature and timing of set planning cycles, favouring mechanisms that are constantly acquiring and integrating information. Develop new navigational systems, with continuous scanning of its contexts, forecasting and scenario planning, risk management with table-topping of responses to different crises, and integrated analyses of the comparative performance and relevant benchmarks for improvement of all the operations of the institution. A review of the University's performance during the past three years of pandemic disruption may be one way to launch this process.

Embedding Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Pluralism Across AKU

Recommendation 15: Ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, and pluralism are valued in its structures, processes, governance, and institutional culture.

Recommendation 16: Match a commitment to enrol students from traditionally underrepresented social groups with efforts to ensure they have a strong sense of belonging at AKU. This is particularly relevant for first-generation university students, often from rural or remote areas. Along with the focus on academic excellence sought by the University, close attention must be paid to how well AKU does in terms of outreach, admission, retention, and support for the transition of all its graduates to the labour market.

Recommendation 17: While broadening its definition and approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, continue to focus on gender equity and women's empowerment across the institution, from health science to student wellness and career services, with advocacy for women institutionalised throughout the University's fabric.

Recommendation 18: Enhance transparency and monitor progress around structures, processes, and outcomes with gender- or other equity-based disaggregated data on students, graduates, staff, and faculty. Once AKU has strengthened transparency and set in place some supportive DEI resources, consider more transformative measures such as capacity building and role modelling.

Strategic and Efficient Growth

Recommendation 19: Eschew rapid expansion into additional countries at this time. Even where plans have advanced (e.g., Portugal), consider partnered programming on a trial basis with institutions of higher learning before substantial investments in freestanding institutional operations.  

Recommendation 20: In expanding enrolments or offerings, avoid mimicry of comprehensive universities in the Global North or geographic replication based on the assumption that it is more efficient and equitable for sites to mirror each other's academic activities.

Recommendation 21: While moving away from top-down planning and development practices, incorporate a mandate to revisit and, where relevant, integrate the lessons and proposals of past thinking groups and external expertise into new programme design.

Recommendation 22: Consider a more comprehensive, deliberate adoption of the SDG framework as a type of “integrative geolocation system" to plan and evaluate the impact of AKU's education, research, and health care services across its operating contexts. Draw on that framework to develop a broader conception of population and planetary health that links the environment, population health determinants, and more traditional public health theory and praxis.

Operational Principles and Applications

With insights from our assessments of AKU's operating contexts and global higher education trends, and within the framework of the strategic planning principles proposed earlier, we offer a series of recommendations organised around five operational principles and their applications to elements of the current and future AKU. All five principles focus on integration, cooperation, and connectivity across the University and with the wider AKDN as a means of expanding AKU's reach and strengthening its influence and impact in its varied operating environments.

Interdisciplinarity and knowledge integration

Recommendation 23: Promote interdisciplinarity and knowledge integration in teaching and learning, research and innovation, and service to address global challenges and foster ethical and pluralistic citizenship more effectively. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences should be well-positioned to lead in this area.

A Robust Virtual Presence

Recommendation 24: Identify ways in which a future AKU may be more effectively structured and governed as a digitally networked organisation, with consideration given to AKU's integration within the AKDN, its multiple campuses on different continents, the diverse and distanced communities it serves, its global reach, its many partners, and the growing capacity of available technologies.

Recommendation 25: Review all current and planned educational offerings to determine which segments of the curricula should take place in person, and which could be accessed through online synchronous and asynchronous teaching. 

Recommendation 26: Evaluate how AKU's physical spaces have developed, how they are being used today, and how they will need to evolve to reflect the needs of an increasingly important virtual university community. In particular, redress the systematic under-investment in the maintenance of AKU's estate to ensure that the distinctive features of its campuses and its high-quality buildings are not degraded.

A Networked, Learning Health System

Recommendation 27: Leverage digital connectivity to support strategic partnerships and network building for AKU Health Services, especially within the AKDN.

Recommendation 28: Pursue closer integration with Aga Khan Health Services [AKHS] to strengthen education, research, and health services—and support more sustainable, equitable operations.

Recommendation 29: Consider the following expansion and improvement opportunities within AKU's existing healthcare operations: increase the number and variety of laboratory services; continue to expand outreach clinics; and, subject to licensing restrictions, enable doctors to provide telemedicine services in radiology and pathology globally.   

Recommendation 30: Reflecting earlier observations of demographic shifts that will make care for aging populations a priority, position and support AKU-trained scholars, scientists, and health professionals to lead the development of new models, systems, and policies for the Global South that will be culturally appropriate, context sensitive, and congruent with healthy aging as well as provision of excellent health and social care to older individuals.

A Networked Institution for Lifelong Learning

Recommendation 31: Develop a robust institutional response to the pressing need for continuing professional development/lifelong learning, to include new programmes, new diplomas, and degrees; and new pathways combining periods of study at the university and periods of study in a work setting.

Recommendation 32: Expand the nature and scope of the study journey by providing continuous study for adult learners and continuing professional development [CPD] via micro-credentials. The latter element has particular relevance from the standpoint of equity and diversity. 

Recommendation 33: Strengthen AKU's own human capital through professional learning and exchange opportunities across campuses. This will not only further develop the intellectual community of students, staff, and faculty alike but may contribute to staunching the flow of academics and health professionals.

Knowledge Integration Through Research, Experiential Learning, and Innovation

Recommendation 34: Seize opportunities to extend AKU's curricular offerings to ensure that all students get 'hands-on' experience in their field of study, leveraging both its diverse geopolitical and socioeconomic contexts and the mutually beneficial possibilities that the AKDN offers for experiential learning. 

Recommendation 35: Build capacity and educate leaders in in the sciences, in a framework which is grounded in and directly relevant to South and Central Asia and East Africa, to enable them not only to lead research and develop strategies in these fields, but also to test and disseminate their findings in applied, real-time conditions. At the minimum, begin training on the principles of measuring and reducing carbon emissions, estimating sustainable solutions for resource use as well as means to protect the environment as relevant to each sector.

Recommendation 36: Employ strategic selectivity around research priorities with a clear focus on applied research grounded in challenges facing the communities that AKU serves, and advance consideration of the available partners and funders. 

Recommendation 37: Over the longer term, develop and regularly update a strategic roadmap for research activity on AKU campuses and in its healthcare facilities, paying particular attention to partnering and funding opportunities as well as community needs assessments, and regularly seek expert advice and reviews to guide research efforts and investments.    

Recommendation 38: Explore the establishment, again over the longer term, of a convergence-oriented innovation centre to nurture and harness the creative abilities of the next generation of students and faculty—and perhaps even small-scale entrepreneurs among alumni or community members.

New Priorities: Healthier Populations on a Healthier Planet

The Commission reiterates its concern that, in the immediate to medium term, AKU could risk compromising its reputation and the quality of its existing programmes and services (and its ability to successfully establish those faculties, programmes, and facilities currently underway) if it pursues a course of rapid expansion, either geographically or in a quest to be academically comprehensive. The Commissioners do, however, strongly endorse two new, interrelated fields for expansion—climate change and sustainable development, and population and public health—along with the robust development of pluralism as university-wide initiative, with some specific thoughts on how AKU might prepare a solid foundation for their success.

Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Recommendation 39: Focus on developing AKU expertise and capacities in climate change and sustainable development organically, rather than through the immediate establishment of a Faculty of Environmental Sciences, through efforts that build on existing strengths, perhaps organized in time-bound research centres and curricular initiatives that would cross-fertilise over time.

Recommendation 40: Employ the new Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Pakistan and the extant Faculties of Health Sciences in Pakistan and East Africa to help build an integrated focus on climate resilience and local mitigation, as well as work with AKDN partners to access expertise and design programming in sustainable development. Staff FAS with an eye to contributing the broad competencies of a liberal arts education to galvanising changes at all levels required to slow the pace of global warming or at least mitigate its local impacts.

Recommendation 41: Leverage a prioritised AKU public health school within an extant Faculty of Health Sciences, to establish teaching and research capacities in climate change necessary for a future Faculty of Environmental Sciences (see recommendations 34,38).

Recommendation 42: Consider East Africa as the initial siting for several centres addressing diverse aspects of climate change in relation to sustainable development as the geography of AKU's nodes in the region lend themselves to wide-ranging field work, and the Arusha campus has enormous potential as a field station and site for experimentation with regenerative agriculture and related sustainable practices.

Population and Public Health

Recommendation 43: Prioritise the development of a public health school that develops the science to anticipate, prevent, and mitigate the consequences of climate change for the health of populations interlinked with attention to the broad social determinants of health and illness—under the title of Population and Environmental Health.

Recommendation 44: Draw on the substantial supportive matrix of faculty with relevant expertise in AKU's two Faculties of Health Sciences, and potential for rapid enlistment of professional master's students with strong employment prospects.

Recommendation 45: Consider establishment of a new School of Population and Environmental Health inside the Faculty of Health Sciences in Pakistan, both for maximum synergy with the new FAS and the extant Department of Community Health Sciences, which could be brought into the new School along with its environmental health programme.

New Priorities: Pluralism Internalised

Recommendation 46: Introduce a common, university-wide Pluralism Curriculum, engaging students from all faculties and programmes, and across all geographies. Link that curriculum to related initiatives within and beyond AKU, including the AKU Network of Quality, Teaching, and Learning; the Outcome Based Education framework; and other AKDN agencies and institutions (to partner or collaborate on the design and delivery of the curriculum).

Our Vision of the Future AKU

The Commissioners have seen universities lose their way when they allow external actors—even well-intentioned donors and partners—to derail their academic priorities or undermine their institutional values. And we have seen universities overspend on capital and underspend on maintenance. Above all, we have all seen universities that planned badly or evaluated their programmes and strategic positioning only intermittently, with resultant failure to align academic priorities, community needs, and financial capacity. Accordingly, we have highlighted core values, planning principles, operating precepts, and major academic priorities, as well as emphasising the need for a clear focus on AKU's navigational capacity itself. Given clarity of mission, strong values, long-term guidance as to priorities, and constant access to integrated and accurate information, we believe the University community will find the resources—human, financial, institutional—to make the best of any circumstance. This report reflects our great confidence and optimistic outlook.

We cannot foretell with any certainty what specific challenges AKU will face 25 years from now, though current conditions suggest that the future could be even more volatile, complex, and unsettled than what it has encountered in the previous quarter century. The University will need to be more agile, aware of both opportunities and threats in its local and global spheres, selective and strategic in its operations, and open to innovation, experimentation, and change. Our guidance has sought to identify how AKU might leverage its existing assets and strengths to navigate its way forward. The Chancellor's Commission is convinced, however, that this remarkable, resilient institution will continue to thrive and contribute to a more peaceful, prosperous, and pluralist world in the decades ahead.


[41] Message from His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, on the inaugural Founder's Day, the 40th anniversary, and the convocation of the Class of 2022. Delivered in Karachi, Pakistan, March 18, 2023. Retrieved August 4, 2023 from: 

[42] The Future of the Aga Khan University: Evolution of a Vision. Report of the Chancellor's Commission, 1994, 112.​