Navigational Aids for the Future AKU: Mission, Values, and Planning Principles

The previous sections surveyed the evolving contexts and major trends shaping the future of AKU. In this section, the Commissioners return to the core mission and values of the University. We asked ourselves: Are these founding precepts cornerstones for future development that have proven resistant to ‘the teeth of time’? The answer in brief is strongly affirmative. The foundational conception and ideals of AKU have not only been a lodestar for the institution over the course of the last forty years but remain highly apposite and should continue to serve as its navigational guide in charting a course for the decades ahead.  

While AKU’s core values in themselves have broad planning implications, both the Commission’s guidance in the next section and especially the Administration’s recent AKU Onwards strategic work plan are grounded in more granular considerations. Thus, this section also sets out some strategic planning principles and processes for and during the years ahead.   

Mission, Vision, and Values

The Aga Khan University describes itself as: “an autonomous, international institution of distinction, primarily serving the developing world and Muslim societies in innovative and enduring ways.” Its mission is: 

the development of human capacities through the discovery and dissemination of knowledge, and application through service. It seeks to prepare individuals for constructive and exemplary leadership roles, and shaping public and private policies, through strength in research and excellence in education, all dedicated to providing meaningful contributions to society.[34]

The Chancellor’s Commission endorses these statements, deeming them no less germane descriptions of the aspirations and purposes of the University in the twenty-first century as they were at its founding. 

So, too we endorse the enduring values of the institution: 

As an international institution, in achieving its mission Aga Khan University operates on the core principles of Impact, Quality, Relevance and Access.

Inspired by Islamic ethics, humanistic ideals and the philosophy of Aga Khan Development Network, the University is committed to building an environment that fosters intellectual freedom, distinction in scholarship, pluralism, compassion, and humanity's collective responsibility for a sustainable physical, social, and cultural environment.[35]

Combined with the University’s identity statement and mission, these values permit, indeed, demand a distinctive profile. In past decades, AKU has established its philosophy and identity as an innovative university that offers a rich student experience with unique strengths in specific vocational areas such as medicine and nursing as well as the training of future educational leaders. Over the last decade, the University has been expanding its programmatic offerings to include media and communications, human development and, most recently, the long-awaited launch of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Today, the fast-changing global environment and higher education ecosystem offer renewed opportunities to expand AKU’s scope as a university keen on applying its deep social responsibility towards the resolution of the world’s challenges. These opportunities can be usefully explored within the University’s four core IQRA values qua operating principles.


As we have seen, higher education is expanding rapidly in the Global South, often to meet demand for credentials rather than education, but this provides an opportunity for AKU to serve as a model—one might say an inspiration—for ambition, excellence, and responsibility.  

That the global higher education community is primed for such leadership is suggested by the launch of the Shanghai principles in 2017, which were intended as a reminder to the leaders of top universities to put the social responsibility of their institutions of higher learning at the core of their vision and mission.[36]​ Echoing the philosophy of intellectual independence, academic freedom and institutional autonomy defended by the Magna Charta signed in 1988 by 388 heads of European universities, the 2017 Shanghai principles focus on social inclusion, scientific truth, ethical values, and responsible research as moral pillars to orient the strategic direction of universities like AKU.  

As a small institution, AKU has sought to achieve an outsized impact by educating leaders and change agents who will go on to transform their professions—as has been well documented in the field of nursing in Pakistan—and take on societal challenges. The Commission reaffirms this strategy: we want AKU graduates who are innovative and inclusive, who are knowledge creators and integrative thinkers; who have the ability to productively engage with diversity; and who will be citizens of the world and ‘citizens of their disciplines’ (i.e., those who seek to make their discipline better socially and scientifically). Focusing on these types of graduate attributes rather than on more narrow curricular elements would give AKU a strongly student-centred orientation and should be factored more systematically into how AKU measures its impact. Individual metrics are important: where AKU students go after graduation, how they apply their education and training to address challenges in their countries of origin or globally—in sum measuring the institution’s success in creating agents of change.

In this vein, the Commissioners recommend that AKU delineate the core competencies that it hopes to foster in all its graduates, and track progress in implementation of pedagogical, extra-curricular, and experiential learning opportunities that might reinforce those competencies. For example, consistent with the University’s mission statements, one might hope that many graduates from AKU would become change agents globally—and be seen to be so.  A list of competencies might therefore include integrative and critical thinking, effective self-expression, and capacities for effective leadership and followership. All these determinations are best made by AKU’s leadership and may well evolve over time. However, the Commissioners have strong views on one attribute: AKU’s graduates should be imbued with a spirit of pluralism—and serve as a small but potentially influential counterforce to the divisive nativism, partisanship, and bigotry that are again becoming prevalent in this unsettled period of human history. 

At the same time, AKU is faced with the reality that programme growth has not kept pace with population growth in its operating environments. For example, if student numbers in the medical (MBBS) programme in Karachi continue to stay at 100 per annum, the University will have diminishing influence and impact even if programme quality remains high. For AKU to remain relevant for growing populations of South/Central Asia and East Africa, it will need to get bigger in terms of numbers even as it strives to maintain its current high standards.

In serving as a model of responsible leadership in higher education and research committed to impact not only within its community of faculty, students, and alumni but in the broader societies it serves, AKU has a unique asset in its association with the Aga Khan Development Network. This should be deepened and strengthened, especially as AKDN’s efforts are guided by principles that are highly relevant to a future AKU’s approach to education and research:

  • Responsible stewardship of the environment, ensuring that the Earth can sustainably support future generations.

  • Focusing on improving the quality of life and well-being (broadly defined) of the poorest and most vulnerable, in geographies of strategic importance.

  • Demonstrating proactive, socially responsible, and values-oriented leadership on the most urgent civilisational— even existential—issues of our time.

  • Leading by example, and sharing our experiences with others, to influence policies, raise awareness, increase impact, and effect social transformation.

We recognise that calls for AKU to foster close, meaningful collaborations across the AKDN are longstanding, and that cooperation can be challenging even when partners share guiding principles, values, and governance structures. Nonetheless, closer alignment with AKDN agencies and institutions holds greater potential to achieve sustained improvements in quality of life in AKU’s operating contexts than any other resource it could deploy.

Partnerships—broadly defined to include other universities, governments, the corporate sector, professional associations, and AKDN entities—will be an essential consideration in developing a strategic roadmap for AKU. Indeed, in a world in which universities increasingly understand the necessity of networks of collaborative research, education, and service, the AKDN represents what might be called a “shadow endowment” for AKU—an enormously valuable source of knowledge, networks, and good will in many of the communities in which the University operates. 

AKU has used collaborations with relatively wealthy institutions and prestigious collaborators as opportunities to strengthen both its academic performance and reputation but has been utterly steadfast in its commitment to operating in challenging geopolitical environments. AKDN for its part works with some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, adversely affected by environmental degradation and climate change. Unlike in the past, many universities in the Global North are now willing to embrace more symmetrical, and equitable forms of partnerships with universities in the Global South, a trend that has unquestionably benefited AKU.  However, “South-South” collaborations are increasingly visible and will take on ever greater importance for AKU in the years ahead, especially given the changing geopolitical order as outlined in the preceding contextual review. The Commissioners strongly endorse AKU’s commitment to social responsibility and focused responsiveness to challenges facing the Global South. We commend AKU’s longstanding commitment to partnering with a wide range of institutions and agencies and urge closer alignment with AKDN and attention to its values. We recommend that AKU consider a strategic geopolitical balance (Global South and North, East, and West; in-country and international) in the partnerships it forges. 


The poet and literary critic T.S. Elliot once asked: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” The same question could guide AKU as it seeks ways of improving its performance without defining academic excellence only in the terms imposed or influenced by the global rankings. The Commissioners understand the appeal of these league tables and their potential utility for a variety of audiences. Nonetheless, the Commissioners recommend that AKU develop its own parameters of quality, viewing the global rankings of universities with interest but remaining wary of measures that do not also reflect its own values of impact, relevance, and access. Put another way, when there is tension between upholding the values articulated by the Chancellor and AKU’s aspirations to be internationally competitive by standards set largely in the Global North, those values must be the bedrock of the institution’s vision.  

An ostensibly positive step away from the usual metrics has been the initiation of ‘Impact Rankings’ by one prominent agency, Times Higher Education, with a series of domains based on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. However, participation in this ranking is based entirely on self-selection by universities, and there are obvious elements of subjectivity in weighing multiple domains. Indeed, the inclusion of four Canadian and three Australian universities in the latest top 10 is striking prima facie evidence that this is more a virtue-signalling opportunity by universities in relatively egalitarian liberal democracies than a measure of real impact in the challenging contexts where lagging progress first galvanised the movement towards creation of SDGs. In contrast, AKU could frame its quality indicators around the SDGs in a way that speaks more authentically to impact on its communities— those on campus, those adjacent, and those served by the healthcare facilities that it oversees. 

Along with measuring quality, there is also the matter of safeguarding it as the institution evolves. The current breadth, coherence, and quality of research and educational programmes at AKU are impressive—and there is room for deliberate growth so long as care is taken to safeguard the quality of AKU’s existing offerings and services. Put simply, expansion must not lead to diminution of excellence in areas of current strength for AKU; care must be taken to maintain the high quality of existing programmes even if that means slower and more deliberate growth than might be urged by the compelling needs of AKU’s varied and deserving constituencies. 


Academic relevance is sometimes—and regrettably—defined narrowly by a university’s ‘production’ of graduates who will be part of highly trained and specialised workforces. To be sure, skills matter.  However, the Commissioners observe that a broad education can help shape smart, nimble, and flexible graduates: future workers coveted for their adaptability and resourcefulness, and future leaders who will not only create the enterprises and institutions that afford employment for such graduates but will serve the public interest at home and abroad. At the same time, AKU has both great opportunity and an obligation to move beyond timebound notions of education as the precursor to a profession or vocation and identify areas in which it can position itself to deliver life-long learning programmes, including re-skilling and upskilling, essential for those future workers and leaders.

To ensure relevance, the Commissioners believe that AKU’s current programming and its growth in the coming decades should be informed by the health and social needs of the University’s communities and constituents, and by careful consideration of how AKU’s capacities might sustainably be mobilised to help meet them. Those capacities currently encompass foundational strengths such as health sciences, educational development, human development, Islamic civilisations, and latterly, arts and sciences—as well as the University’s AKDN connections, including entities such as the University of Central Asia and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. 

AKU has both an opportunity and responsibility to reflect its identity as a university underpinned by the values of the Muslim world. AKU’s Muslim identity is enhanced and enriched by its locations where Muslims are both majorities and minorities, where pluralism is both an historical legacy and a contested notion, and where the values and ethics that underpin its mission (and potentially contribute to its curricular richness) reflect the faith-affiliated roots of a non-sectarian institution. Positioning AKU as a university that embraces the humanities, promotes pluralism, addresses the urgent challenges of climate change, and is committed to fostering sustainable development is a way of both honouring and extending its Muslim heritage and ethical commitments. 

 In particular, AKU’s diverse contexts provide an unusual opportunity to reprise the Chancellor’s lifetime commitment to pluralism. If pluralism were a key component of the curriculum across AKU’s faculties and a distinguishing attribute of its graduates, AKU would be uniquely positioned to play a leading role among institutions of higher education. This shift would affirm that the ability to productively engage with diversity is a crucial life skill for the educated citizen in the twenty-first century. It would also affirm that in a world where strife and warfare are increasingly prevalent, education centred on pluralism is not simply an intellectual concern but, in many instances, an existential one. 

Similarly, the Commissioners believe the urgent challenge of climate change, particularly in the geographies AKU and the AKDN operates, necessitates the development of programs that address environmental issues across the University – touching education, research, and service in virtually all schools and programmes. The new challenges that humanity will face due to climate change will require a new generation of leaders equipped to help develop and/or implement appropriate solutions.  

Last, as a broad principle, the Commissioners are staunch proponents of independent research by university scholars and scientists, including upstream lines of inquiry and basic research in all disciplines that might at first seem wilfully irrelevant. They support the many warnings that have been issued against drawing sharp distinctions between basic and applied research, given the extent to which, over time, basic and applied research efforts feed off each other with major social and economic payoffs that are totally unpredictable. That said, given its size and its operating contexts, AKU must be prudent in allocating its research-related resources and should unapologetically commit the lion’s share of those resources to research that may have positive near-term impacts on the health and broader well-being of those living in the Global South.  


The Commissioners see three fundamental ways in which issues of access might inform the Commission’s vision of AKU’s future. In the first instance, the University should be deliberate in its development of strategies to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in all its operations, from student recruitment to research development and staff well-being. In particular, the historical commitment to equitable inclusion of women, central to the Chancellor’s vision in founding AKU, should be celebrated and sustained. More than ever, a future AKU must focus on gender inequities, the status of women locally and globally, and provision of support and resources for women to achieve upward mobility and work to their full capacity. We elaborate upon the planning implications of this DEI focus below.

Second, access is also about ensuring that the University curricula and research programmes are delivered in formats that permit more flexibility to prospective students and partners. Section 2 highlighted this shift as a global trend, with more growth in distance learning, asynchronous classes, micro-credentials, stacked course modules, or other devices. Distance learning has enormous potential, not least for a multi-country, multi-campus institution such as AKU. Moreover, as the strengths and weaknesses of Artificial Intelligence become clearer, universities world-wide will inevitably deploy digital strategies to deliver instruction in more flexible and accessible formats. Bringing learning into the home, rather than the student into the classroom, increases the reach of educational institutions exponentially, makes access more democratic and affordable, and allows teachers and students to tailor their hours according to other responsibilities. It also fosters the development of virtual learning communities across borders and continents and widens the scope of access to educational materials to almost limitless proportions. 

That said, a caveat is essential. While pandemic exigencies illustrated the enormous power of long-distance interchanges via audio-visual connectivity, they have also highlighted some of the limitations of remote learning. Younger learners in particular benefit from in-person socialisation and immersion in the group dynamics that occur in a seminar room or through informal interchanges and peer learning on a university or college campus. In short, the Commissioners encourage AKU to develop a strong suite of digital learning options for learners at all stages, without weakening its commitment to a rich panoply of on-campus experiences and the development of a wide range of experiential learning opportunities. 

A third dimension of access, which intersects with the first two and has implications for the long-term sustainability of the institution, concerns the substantial financial and logistical barriers to higher education opportunities or healthcare services faced by most citizens in the Global South.  AKU’s commitment to needs-blind admissions and financial assistance has been critical in opening access to lower income and first-generation students—notably women and individuals from rural or marginalised communities—and especially vital in the fields of nursing and educational development. AKU and other AKDN institutions also have significant expertise, contextual knowledge, and community connections to assist displaced persons and improve their life prospects through education and employment.  Such programming, moreover, might well be supported by large-scale grants from global philanthropic foundations or multilateral organisations. Still, the Commission understands that almost 50 per cent of the student body receives financial assistance, and overall cost recovery from tuition fees is only 12 per cent. The new undergraduate Arts and Sciences programme will have additional substantial costs, and its potential to be self-sustaining is negligible, especially if AKU maintains its current financial aid policies. 

Indeed, maintaining AKU’s financial aid policy will therefore become more difficult as enrolment grows and becomes more representative of the populations in locales where AKU operates. Similarly, on the healthcare side, AKU’s Patient Welfare programme has been critical for broadening access to quality care and services. AKU’s current financial model relies heavily on revenue from health care services, an approach that the Commissioners perceive as unlikely to sustainably meet the University's needs over the long term.

Access concerns extend to the digital divide prevalent in many parts of the Global South. If AKU moves in the direction of an increasingly virtual presence with related educational opportunities, digital access may still be constrained by income, gender, and geography.  The University has the benefit of learning from its largely successful pivot to online learning during the pandemic and may be able to identify some immediate and longer-term solutions to technical barriers. Social barriers, some grounded in biases against higher education for women, may be harder to overcome. 

It is plausible, however, that a future AKU may focus less on physical infrastructure and more on its info-structure. Fundraising previously focused on campus development could then pivot to growing the endowment in general and enlarging support for student grants and loans. In the interim, AKU may need to adopt needs-sensitive admissions strategies with a view to optimising access broadly while continuing to help students with the most limited resources. The same logic may apply in sustaining access to AKU’s healthcare services. Development and deployment of a range of novel financing mechanisms, including micro-insurance schemes, could equitably shift a meaningful fraction of uncompensated services to limited cost-sharing.  


AKU’s mission and foundational values—Impact, Quality, Relevance and Access—have underpinned the institution’s operations over four decades. The Commissioners strongly endorse the institution’s mission and believe its four core values remain highly apposite. There are inevitably tensions among those values. That said, the Commissioners also see these values as strongly aligned in most respects. We recommend them as continuing touchstones in stock-taking and planning as AKU builds on its legacy of distinctive contributions to education, research, and service in the decades ahead. 

Planning Principles and Processes 

Drawing from its review of AKU’s contexts and trends likely to affect them, as well as its assessment of the institution’s mission, values, and ethos, the Commission turns now to guidance on planning principles before addressing more concrete suggestions and recommendations.  Taken together, we hope these may serve as medium- and long-term navigational aids for future Trustees and Administrations. We are deliberate in the choice of the words “may serve”, and in eschewing any implication that our guidance should endure for 25 years until a next Chancellor’s Commission is appointed. On the contrary, among our key recommendations is the need for very different navigational systems for the AKU given the unprecedented pace of change on so many fronts relevant to the future course of the institution.  

Focused Agility informed by Continuous Evaluation 

First, while AKU has been a remarkable success in many ways, it remains a small private institution with a modest endowment and other revenues constrained by its commendable ethos of access, operating on multiple sites and continents. AKU must avoid the pitfall of attempting to be all things to all constituencies, lest there be erosion of the quality of its educational offerings and the health services it has provided to so many. Focused excellence is crucial to both the sustainability and impact of AKU.  

There are logical corollaries of that enjoinder against diffuseness. The Commissioners see the creation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences [FAS] in Karachi as a major and indeed commendable milestone in AKU’s evolution and growth. That said, FAS poses distinct challenges in student recruitment, student experience, pedagogic breadth, and faculty recruitment and development; even its curriculum could be a flashpoint for sectarian tensions. It is crucial to AKU’s reputation that efforts be focused on the successful launch of this distinctive new Faculty. Accordingly, the Commissioners recommend prudence and strategic selectivity in the launch of other educational and research programmes while FAS is being established.  

More generally, there have at times been references to AKU’s future as a ‘comprehensive university’. The last Chancellor’s Commission envisioned new schools and programmes, most drawing input from expert panels or ‘thinking groups’ with distinguished membership. The Commissioners recommend that AKU’s future models for growth be less top-down (‘thinking groups’ followed by recruitment of leaders to build according to the blueprint) and more incremental, building from and budding off existing capacities in response to clear community needs including student demand. Growth through de novo creation of fixed structures with new administrative overheads—departments, colleges, schools, faculties—should be avoided where possible.

As will be elaborated below, the Commissioners envisage the future AKU as a highly integrated organisation operating in partnership with and through numerous networks. Agility and adaptability will be crucial. In this spirit, AKU should consider using ‘centres’ as what amount to experimental units. Some might flourish and grow out into larger and more stable units. Others could thrive at smaller scale. Many would perforce be closed, merged, or reworked—a fate that should be understood not as failure but among the expected outcomes of a worthwhile experiment.  In general, AKU should avoid overstretching its administrative and fiscal capacity in pursuit of ‘ideal types’ for universities that arose in very different times and places.

This suggests strategic planning should continue to focus on diversification of personnel for the University’s governance and leadership, as well as institutional partners and networks, away from the past preponderance of the Global North and West. To elaborate: as with partnerships, the Commissioners recommend that AKU maintain a strategic balance— geopolitically, and between within-country and international candidates in recruitment of future trustees and senior leaders.  A blended leadership corps is also propitiously aligned with the concept that pluralism that should become a more active leitmotif for the future AKU.  

Given the accelerating pace of change, AKU needs to reconsider the nature and timing of its planning cycles. Resilience and adaptability—in the institution, in the communities it serves, and in its graduates—will be particularly critical in the years ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing hectic inflation across the world, and upheavals in many of the countries in which AKU operates serve as stark reminders of how quickly the status quo can be upended.  Clearly, a quarter-century between Chancellor’s Commissions or their equivalent no longer makes sense. Even routinised five-year reviews of key programmes or academic units, while obviously valuable, are more likely to harden the walls of existing silos than to galvanise imaginative reinvention or integration that unlocks momentum-building synergies. 

What seems essential, instead, are mind-sets and mechanisms that work not in predetermined planning cycles but are constantly acquiring and integrating information bearing on the institution’s short- and longer-term operations. In effect, AKU must 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. This functionality will better position both the academy and health services operations to be responsive and resilient in the face of a very uncertain future.  

A review of the University’s performance during the past three years of pandemic disruption may be one way to launch this navigational function, not least because of the multiple shocks that AKU has withstood in this period: e.g. the COVID-19 health emergency, the pandemic’s financial consequences, the rise in energy prices brought about by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the accelerating changes in Afghanistan following the American withdrawal, and the catastrophic floods that hit Pakistan in 2022. What aspects of the health care, education, and business models of AKU have proven to be “crisis-proof” and which ones showed elements of vulnerability that need to be addressed? That said, while looking back on past crises is very helpful, foresight—with careful scoping of alternative futures—is essential for long-term institutions such as universities and must be part of the mandate of any new ‘navigational’ unit.  

An oft overlooked part of university planning processes is canvassing key stakeholders in the jurisdictions where the institution operates, as well as soliciting input from alumni, howsoever far-flung they may be. AKU’s disparate geographies and diverse leadership make these consultations all the more essential—and lead us to further considerations of the University’s planning processes in relation to growth. 

Embedding Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Pluralism Across the Institution

As a logical outgrowth of its commitment to access within a reconfirmed IQRA framework for institutional values, AKU should ask what more it could do to ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, and pluralism are valued in its structures, processes, governance, and institutional culture.

A commitment to enrol students from traditionally underrepresented social groups must be matched by 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 or underrepresented groups. 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.

While the future AKU should broaden its definition and approach to equity and inclusion, a continued focus on gender equity and women’s empowerment is essential. This is true across the institution, from health science to student wellness and career services. Just as a focus on supporting women to achieve upward mobility and work to their full potential was integral to the founding vision of AKU, so also must a future AKU sustain a focus on gender inequities and on the status of women locally and globally, with advocacy for women institutionalised throughout the University’s fabric.

A key step towards embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and pluralism across AKU is to enhance transparency around structures, processes, and outcomes with gender- or other equity-based disaggregated data on students, graduates, staff, and faculty. Progress can be monitored and accelerated by an executive team member focused on DEI or by internal councils. That said, DEI initiatives often fall short when they are defined by headcounts. Inclusion is more important, defined holistically by the degree to which students, employees and leaders are embraced and enabled to make meaningful contributions to AKU. Once AKU has strengthened transparency and set in place some supportive DEI resources, the University can go on to look to more transformative measures such as capacity building and role modelling.

Strategic and Efficient Growth

First, small programmes in any new jurisdiction can lead to disproportionately large overheads (Charters, Governing Councils, local leadership, and travel costs). The Commission advises against rapid expansion into additional countries at this time. Portugal is a different case, given the presence of the Imamat in Lisbon. However, even there, the Commission would suggest partnered programming on a trial basis with institutions of higher learning before substantial investments in freestanding institutional operations. Expansion into other East African jurisdictions seems untenable for many years given that new programmes and facilities in Nairobi and Kampala require close attention, and renewed engagement with the giant Arusha campus in Tanzania is still unfolding.  

Second, with the relatively new initiatives in undergraduate Medicine and Nursing in Nairobi, the East African and South/Central Asian hubs in Nairobi and Karachi are well balanced. There is, however, no compelling reason why these sites, or any others, should mirror one another in programming, particularly given the lack of clear economies of scale. AKU’s presence in the UK is distinctively grounded in the humanities and Islamic studies. For other sites, there are residual uncertainties, e.g., when, and how to optimise the use of the vast tract of land in Arusha, the physical limits of the University’s current or potential footprints in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and how much can prudently be invested in building out the Kampala Nakawa campus. Each site may very reasonably follow a unique developmental trajectory. 

The Commissioners are keenly aware that AKU is gestating exciting expansion opportunities. More will be said about the growth and development of the University in the next section, including focused expansion into interconnected fields of population and planetary health. However, as already argued, a new growth ethos is also needed. In expanding its enrolments or its offerings, the University must try to avoid misguided mimicry of comprehensive universities in the Global North or geographic replication based on the misplaced assumption that it is more efficient and equitable for sites to largely mirror each other’s academic activities. 

We have already signalled our concern about AKU’s top-down mode of planning and implementing new programmes. That said, it makes no sense to ignore the recommendations and proposals, often quite well developed, that AKU has commissioned over the past 15 years with the support of distinguished external thinking groups. Any new integrative planning mechanism should accordingly have a mandate to revisit and draw on these reports as appropriate. 

Through this latter mechanism the University has considered expanding its academic reach with graduate professional education in government and public policy; management and leadership; architecture and human settlement; and hospitality, leisure, and tourism. Law and economic growth and development were other possibilities.  Due to shifting circumstances, the case for many of these initiatives has been modified substantially.  However, pursuant to our endorsement of organic growth, experimentation, and evaluation, among the options to consider in future is whether ‘incubation’ of some of these initiatives in modified form is feasible as programmes in the Arts and Sciences, Population Health, or the Environment:  

  • AKU could create a business programme focused on social enterprise and development economics, drawing in part on insights from the Leadership and Management thinking group.  

  • It is unlikely that a new School of Hospitality, Leisure, and Tourism is in AKU’s future. However, colleagues with expertise in environmental sciences and sustainable development might explore how tourism evolves in a world where climate change is affecting so many natural and human-made environments.   

  • Low-income populations often do not have access to official identity documents, which prevents them from accessing healthcare, education, legal employment, voting rights, inheritance, property acquisition, loans and mortgages, and the judicial system. A law programme focused in these areas would fit well in a university committed to addressing sustainable development.

  • The Commission is not supportive of early implementation of a School of Government and Public Policy. However, the nidus for such a School might be developed in health and/or environmental policy as part of new initiatives endorsed by this report. 

This is obviously a brief and incomplete list of options. The point here is simply that plans developed in a different time are unlikely to be adopted but it is always worth considering whether and in what forms they might be adapted to AKU’s current priorities and the needs and circumstances of those living in the communities it serves. 

Second, we noted earlier that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, adopted unanimously in 2015, offer an important set of signposts that link AKU’s longstanding commitment to improving conditions for those in the Global South to its future commitment to address urgent issues of climate change and environmental stewardship. The UN characterizes the SDG initiative as 

a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries—developed and developing—in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.[37]

Since its inception, AKU has had a focus on aspects of sustainable development and is now poised to greatly intensify that commitment. The appeal of the SDGs lies in their transparency and comprehensiveness—including their overlap with the health fields where AKU has already established itself as a regional leader and is contemplating further expansion. In this regard, with AKU already contemplating new post-pandemic programming in public health, the SDG framework nudges the University towards a broader conception of population and planetary health that links the environment, population health determinants, and more traditional public health theory and praxis. 

The SDG framework might also help AKU define an agenda of applied research aimed at solving real-life problems and address the local and global challenges embodied in the SDGs. As such, it may be a useful complement to the more rigorous planning and evaluation around AKU’s research portfolio recommended at various points in this report.

 For example, when a new field of research investment or educational programme is under discussion, AKU might do well not only to test the fit with its overall mission but also to ask: how the theme aligns with the SDGs and their performance indicators; whether AKU is best positioned to address this effort, and if so, how; whether the theme has SDG impacts as well as operational efficiencies arising from synergy with fields in which the University is already active; what other high-impact efforts must be delayed or foregone in prioritising the initiative under consideration;  and, given the latter opportunity costs, whether the sequencing and trade-offs are appropriate. 

In sum, the Commissioners believe the SDG framework offers what might be described as an integrative geolocation system to help AKU as it navigates the decades ahead. It bridges disciplines important to the University’s future, and reflects the University’s values of Impact, Relevance and Access even as its Key Performance Indicators provide metrics for measuring progress in several dimensions of Quality.


[34] “Our Vision," Accessed 15 May 2023.

[35] Ibid.

[36] P. De Maret and J. Salmi, “World-Class Universities in a Post-Truth World". In Wu, Y., Wang, Q, and N. Cai Liu (Eds). World-Class Universities: Towards a Global Common Good and Seeking National and Institutional Contributions. Leiden and Boston: Brill Sense, 70-87.​

[37] United Nations, “The 17 Goals: History." Retrieved July 26, 2023 from:​