Launched during a global pandemic and intersecting with significant changes at the Aga Khan University [AKU] and across the communities it serves, the second Chancellor’s Commission has completed its deliberations. Our report, Reflections on the Future Aga Khan University, draws on the diverse perspectives and expertise of the 15 individual Commissioners, while presenting our shared guidance on diverse paths forward for the institution.  

The report provides a model for growth that reflects the institution’s mission, values, and foundational strengths; the exigencies, opportunities, and challenges in its operating contexts; and its constraints in financial, human, and technical resources. We also set out strategic planning and operating principles that can inform both the University’s immediate decisions and longer-term ambitions, including expansion into areas of greatest potential and need. 

Changes in the World and in Higher Education, and Their Implications for the Future AKU

To situate its recommendations, the Chancellor’s Commission reflected on the geopolitical, economic and social conditions in the world and profound shifts in higher education globally that AKU will need to navigate in the years and decades ahead. We studied the local and regional impacts of global forces, including climate change, health crises, geopolitical and demographic shifts, artificial intelligence, inequality, violent conflict, and resurgent nationalism. Similarly, the Commission observed profound changes in the higher education sector and contemplated how AKU will benchmark and evaluate 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 diverse and growing constituencies it serves. 

Our analysis of these operating contexts at the global, regional, and local levels provided ample grounds for caution in making confident forecasts for conditions 25 years from now, let alone prescribing long-term strategies. Instead, the Commissioners sought to identify how AKU might leverage its significant, distinctive strengths in the near term to chart its future course, and, as noted above, delineate mechanisms and principles to help AKU navigate what is likely to be a fast-changing environment everywhere it operates. 

A Renewed Commitment to AKU’s Mission and Values

The Commissioners considered AKU’s mission and its four core values of Impact, Quality, Relevance, and Access [IQRA] and determined that they remain essential touchstones for reflection, planning, and evaluation in the decades ahead. We base this report’s first 10 recommendations on a renewed commitment to IQRA, highlighting opportunities to strengthen AKU’s reputation and position as a university that applies its deep social responsibility towards the resolution of the world’s challenges—particularly in the Global South.

Of particular note, the Commission identified a several ways in which the UN Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] framework could help AKU intensify and realise that commitment to IQRA, bridging disciplines important to the University’s future, defining an institutional research agenda, and providing metrics for measuring its progress.

Strategic Planning Principles and Processes

Our proposed set of strategic planning principles and processes centre on three themes: focused agility and continuous evaluation; embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and pluralism across the institution; and strategic and efficient growth— all of which are relevant to both near- and longer-term decisions AKU must make. 

We have emphasized the need for AKU to develop more agile planning processes that include 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. As a logical outgrowth of the reconfirmed IQRA framework, we propose a broadened definition and approach to equity and inclusion, while maintaining a focus on gender that includes both addressing gender inequities and empowering women to realise their full potential. Finally, the Commission’s recommendations in this section centre on a model for growth that is less top-down and more incremental, building from and budding off existing capacities in response to clear needs. We also caution against unfocused expansion and comprehensiveness based on mimicry of institutional programming prevalent to the Global North.  Instead, we recommend prioritising the successful establishment of major new, resource-intensive initiatives already underway. 

Operational Principles and Applications

To expand AKU’s reach and strengthen its influence and impact in its varied operating environments, the Commission saw an ongoing need to enhance integration, cooperation, and connectivity across the University and with the wider AKDN. We delineated five guiding principles to advance those objectives: prioritising interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinary integration; creating a robust virtual presence; fostering a networked, learning health system; positioning AKU as a networked institution for lifelong learning; and promoting knowledge integration through research, experiential learning, and innovation.

Many of these operations-focused recommendations seek to harness the potential of digital technologies to strengthen institutional management and governance, forge deeper connections across the University and with partners in and beyond the AKDN, and improve both the relevance of and access to AKU’s academic programmes, research, and health services. In sum, the Commission underscores the increasing importance of the virtual university community and offers guidance on how the present AKU can position itself for that future. 

New Priorities

In the immediate to medium term, the Commission strongly advises against a course of rapid expansion, either geographically or in the pursuit of academic breadth. It does, however, propose AKU consider two interrelated fields for future expansion along with the development of a university-wide pluralism curriculum. 

The report accordingly offers a series of recommendations on developing AKU expertise and capacities to address climate change and sustainable development, building on AKU’s foundational strengths and assets within the wider AKDN. It similarly recommends steps to prioritise the establishment of a public health school, again drawing on the substantial support matrix that exists in AKU’s Faculties of Health Sciences. These two fields could connect and reinforce one another under the broad themes of population and planetary or environmental health.

The Chancellor’s Commission also sees a unique, timely opportunity to position AKU to play a leading role among institutions of higher education and in the societies that it serves through a common pluralism curriculum across its faculties. In this spirit, we envisage the ability to productively engage with diversity as a distinguishing attribute of AKU’s future graduates. We also offer some specific thoughts on how the institution might pursue this university-wide integration of pluralism.   

Our Vision: Sober Realism and Hopeful Imagination

Our aim has been to craft durable, practical recommendations that will help the current and future University be more agile and resilient, attuned and responsive to conditions and needs in its local and global spheres, strategic in its operations, and open to innovation, experimentation, and change.

At the first meeting of this Chancellor’s Commission, members remarked on the preface to the first Chancellor’s Commission report, in which the His Highness the Aga Khan congratulated that group for its “sober realism and hopeful imagination”. This Commission has similarly aspired to achieve that balance.​