Address by Mr Firoz Rasul

President, Aga Khan University

Chief Guest, Dr Kilemi Mwiria, Assistant Minister of Higher Education,Chairman, Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi,
Members of the Board of Trustees,
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Graduands and Students,
Parents and Distinguished Guests,

Humjambo, Karibuni and Good Morning,

Welcome to the 2010 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University. To the graduates and their families: This is a day of great celebration as you pass this important milestone.

Today you will be conferred with a degree that recognises your mastery of a professional field, which at AKU means mastery at an international standard. You have earned that degree through hard work and commitment. Congratulations!

We have among our graduates today, 38 new registered community health nurses, 38 Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates and 14 Master of Medicine graduates. We are proud of each one of you. As the seventh graduating class of Aga Khan University in East Africa, you are following what is already an auspicious tradition of alumni from AKU in East Africa.

This morning, I would like to acknowledge Dr Jeff Rees, who is in the audience with us today. Dr Rees was the first Director of the AKU Post-Graduate Medical Education programme in East Africa. Our Master of Medicine students are benefitting today from his significant contribution in establishing this programme. Jeff and his colleagues are working to realize the mission of this University; that is to build capacity in East Africa for the long-term growth of the region.

AKU is expanding at a critical point in the region’s history. East Africa today is poised for significant growth and development. Economists predict that Sub-Saharan Africa will be one of the fastest-growing regions of the world in 2011. At the same time, East Africa is going through substantial change as it transforms into a single economic community. Each member country is assessing the opportunities and challenges related to this change, such as the competition for limited resources and the ability to provide economic opportunities for their growing populations. While the East African Community was established to create synergy and scale, on the cusp of this change, many are asking: how will we offer equality of opportunity and raise the quality of life for all our people?

The answer lies in our ability to create and harness the capacity in the abundant human potential that exists here. How? Education is the driver.

East Africa’s success as a region is directly related to our ability to cultivate agents of change who can seize this transformation; capable leaders who understand the needs of the region but are equally qualified to understand global trends and leverage them to the advantage for East Africa. This region needs critical thinkers, innovators and job-creators who are also committed to the service of society through ethical actions.

With this in mind, AKU’s vision is to create a unique regional university covering all the countries of the EAC; an institution of higher learning that will cultivate these thought-leaders and entrepreneurs; a valuable partner in meeting the needs of the region. To achieve this, we are work closely with the national governments and the Inter University Council for East Africa, the regional body for higher education.

AKU is already making an impact in the region through its programmes and services of international quality. For example, the Postgraduate Medical Education programme to train doctors to become specialists serving the region from Nairobi, is graduating its first cohort of pediatricians and obstetricians today. We expect that these specialists will play a leadership role in achieving the government’s maternal and child health priorities and Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. In Nairobi, this year our university hospital will open the Heart and Cancer Centre to provide treatments for heart diseases and cancers currently not available in East Africa. We are also assisting to enhance the capabilities of public sector as evidenced by the recent agreement signed with the Kenyan Ministry of Medical services to convert Gatundu District Hospital into a teaching site.

As you can see, AKU is orienting its programmes to reach across the region. The Institute for Educational Development, based in Dar es Salaam is working with schools in Kampala and Kisumu to help its teachers raise the quality of schools through improvements in teaching, curriculum and assessments.

In the same way, Aga Khan University nursing programmes are helping working nurses in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda upgrade their knowledge and clinical skills to improve nursing practices in hospitals and clinics. Each of these initiatives serves to build human capacity in towns and villages across East Africa.

As a University, we must realize that we are educating students today for jobs and roles that may not exist yet. For this reason, AKU’s innovative curriculum instils critical thinking skills in our students and teaches them how to continue learning well into their careers. In this way, our graduates can adapt to changing opportunities. For example, the recently announced AKU Graduate School of Media and Communications will teach students about being knowledgeable and responsible journalists, employing ethical practices in their conventional and newly emerging media technologies and enterprises. Similarly, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to be established in Arusha, will draw undergraduates from East Africa to obtain a broad based multidisciplinary education. The residential liberal education programmes will serve to inculcate a sense of accountability to the people and stewardship for the environment through socially responsible economic upliftment of the region.

In addition to thinking about what we teach, we also plan for our students learn across disciplines. By connecting our students with the community as part of their classroom experience, they are able to understand how the traditions and histories of this region can help solve current socio-economic challenges. Our emphasis on early human development helps students understand that when infant mortality rates go down in a community, it occurs because there is clean water and food available, but also because mothers are literate and fathers have job prospects in the community.

As AKU expands to become a comprehensive university in the region, it will continue to value quality over quantity. Our purpose is to contribute to the intellectual development of the region through offering international standard education in East Africa so that students don’t have to leave the region, build research and development here, to preventing the brain drain by offering professionals opportunities equivalent to those they seek in the west. This is how AKU will cultivate the human potential of the region to create competent, compassionate and ethical leaders for business, government, social sector and civil society.

Graduates, today is your day; celebrate what you have achieved and be proud of it.

You are graduating today from an auspicious University; one with a history and track record of success in cultivating high quality graduates who are also leaders. As you embark on this new phase in your life, uphold the leadership qualities you developed at AKU and mark your work with the very highest in personal and professional ethics. Challenge what is not working. Ask questions - even when the questions are difficult and the answers elusive. Give generously of your time and knowledge, sharing what you have learnt, in the service of others. Above all else, make no compromises on quality. You are graduating from an institution that consciously built its reputation on high standards and an adherence to its values. Build your own reputation in the same way.

Make us proud.

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 help us build a bright future for East Africa. We will follow your progress and your successes with great anticipation and expectation.

Thank you and Asante Sana.

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