Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University
Chief Guest, Professor Everett Standa, CEO and Commission Secretary of the Commission of Higher Education
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi
Trustees of the University
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
The Provost, Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Graduands and Students
Parents and Distinguished Guests,
Hamjambo, Karibuni and Good Morning,
Welcome to the Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University, Class of 2011. To our graduates and their families: this is a day of great celebration as you pass this important milestone.
We have amongst us today 18 students who will be conferred with a Master of Medicine degree and 29 who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. These degrees recognize your mastery of a noble profession and at AKU, this means mastery at an international standard. You have earned your degree through hard work and commitment. And today we congratulate you!
You are graduating at a time of great change when we are witnessing profound shifts across East Africa. The East African Community is bringing about regional thinking and integration.
At the same time, individual economies in East Africa are expanding. International investors are starting to establish enterprises in the region bringing with them greater competition and more opportunity. Overall, the world is waking up to the potential of East Africa.
To realize this potential, we have to overcome some major challenges in the region. Issues such as the availability of water and food, the impact of climate change, volatility at some borders and rising corruption continue to plague East Africa’s progress. While the prospects are positive, the potential for greater instability exists if these challenges remain unresolved.
Over the past two centuries, populations have experienced similar dynamic circumstances in their quest to move away from a governance system that is based on affiliation to a system that is based on merit – this shift occurs as populations look to build modern nation-states on the basis of shared values, a common vision and responsible citizenship.
Through these periods of “nation-building”, universities such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Princeton, have played a significant role in Europe and North America. They have built capacity and established thought leadership in new areas and on new ideas in politics, economics and public policy, all resulting in creating stability and cohesion.
Similarly, during the Fatimid caliphate in North Africa, Al-Azhar University, founded by the ancestors of our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, was a well-spring of dynamic pluralism and innovation that shaped a fertile intellectual period of Islamic history.
In his recent book The Global Proliferation of Regional Integration, Ludger Kühnhardt suggests that in a globalizing world, the rise of “region-building” will replace modern nation-building, as populations come together across national boundaries based on common values of peace, economic self-sufficiency, good governance and equitable investment and treatment of its citizenry.
If this is the case, then what is the role of the University in this new era of “region-building”?
I would posit that it is to help create the leadership, the institutions and an understanding of the opportunity within the region. It is also to work collectively to solve current challenges and fully leverage the opportunities that are available. The University also has an important role in creating a regional identity and a sense of belonging for everyone.
To illustrate my point, AKU recently held stakeholder consultations for a new institution that we are establishing called the East African Institute - a regional policy think tank, research centre and dialogue space. The most striking finding that emerged from these consultations, was the importance of an East African identity as an essential foundation for regional integration, if the East African Community is to be a “community of peoples”, rather than a community of entities, businesses or organizations.
As East Africa stands on the cusp of a dynamic period of intense growth, how will the Aga Khan University contribute in the decades ahead?
Our vision at the Aga Khan University is to create a regional university in East Africa for East Africa, where talented students from across the region receive an international standard education at any AKU campus in the East African Community.
Our goal is to develop human talent - to develop knowledge, to instill aptitudes and attitudes that create resilience to withstand adversity and an entrepreneurial spirit that will enable people to create businesses and jobs; to cultivate the thought-leaders and innovators who can examine the challenges from an East African perspective and imagine unconventional solutions.
As a University, we realize that we must educate our students today for jobs and roles that may not exist yet. For this reason, AKU’s innovative curriculum instills critical thinking skills in our students and teaches them how to continue learning well into their careers so that our graduates can adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities.
For example, AKU is changing how education and healthcare are delivered to meet the needs specific to East Africa. The AKU Advanced Nursing Programme is helping working nurses in rural Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania upgrade their knowledge and clinical skills to improve nursing practices in hospitals and clinics.
In the same way, our Institute for Educational Development, based in Dar es Salaam, is working with schools in Kampala, Uganda; in Kisumu, Kenya; and in Turiani, Tanzania to help teachers raise the quality of education through improvements in teaching, curriculum and assessments.
We are also re-thinking the way healthcare is delivered to a predominantly rural and often financially disadvantaged population.
For example, AKU recently established several patient outreach centres in smaller towns and villages across East Africa, bringing the total number of outreach centres to thirty centres across the region. At the same time, Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi was recently awarded a Vision 2030 ICT Innovation Award for mobile health services delivery.
As we reach out to patients, we are bringing the best in medical technology to the region. The most recent example of this is the opening of the Heart and Cancer Centre here in Nairobi, which serves all of sub-Saharan Africa.
And most importantly, AKU is helping patients in need through the Patient Welfare Programme. In fact, last year, in 2011 this programme contributed 200 million Kenyan Shillings to ensure that patients who were unable to afford treatment had access to world class care.
We are grateful to our donors such as Johnson and Johnson, Lundin Foundation, the Rotary Foundation, Room to Read, the Awali Group and the Canadian International Development Agency who have each contributed to projects that directly benefit AKU students in East Africa. These partners understand that we live in an interconnected world and that the challenges we face here are just as much their responsibility as ours to solve.
In this increasingly inter-connected world, the national governments of the East African Community countries as well as the East African Community itself have demonstrated their commitment to the ideal of higher education. They understand the potential of quality higher education to address some of East Africa’s most pressing development challenges.
It is critical to ensure consistency of educational standards across the East African Community for both incoming students as well as our new graduates, such as you – we have to ensure that a degree from AKU in Uganda is at the same standard as the one from Kenya or Tanzania. You should have the confidence that your qualifications will be recognized across the region for the quality education that it represents.
Our graduates, today is your day! You have achieved a significant milestone. An education is a long-term investment that you, your family and society have made in you.
You are emerging onto the stage in East Africa at a pivotal moment in its future. You have chosen to invest in building the skills and knowledge that will be necessary to lead the region into this bright future.
How you choose to contribute to your country but also to East Africa will shape the region for generations to come. You, more than any other group, knows this country much better and knows what it needs.
So choose carefully. Choose to stay here and to work to improve the region. Choose to work to the same high quality standards that you became accustomed to at AKU. And choose to uphold your strong ethical framework.
Work collaboratively and ethically, in the knowledge that the sum of our efforts is greater than the individual parts. The emerging East African Community is proof of this.
And work with compassion to raise the standards for all Kenyans and East Africans – not just those who have the means to benefit from this emerging opportunity.
And above all, our graduates, build the country you want your children to enjoy – build a region that they will be proud to call home.
As you go on to the next adventure, we will be there to support you and I hope that you, too, will come back to the Aga Khan University to help us build a bright future for this University in East Africa.
We will follow your progress and your successes with great anticipation and great expectation.
Asanteni Sana and thank you.