Address by Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan

November 23, 1996​

Your Excellency the Governor of Sindh,
President Kass​im-Lakha,
Rector Camer Vellani,
Chairman & Members of the Board of Trustees,
Faculty Members,
Distinguished Guests
Proud Parents of the Class of 1996,
Graduating Students of the Aga Khan University,​


This graduating cerem​ony, for the class of 1996 from the Faculty of Health Sciences, is a day of distinction which you and we will always remember.

You are to be commended, heartily, on your academic achievement. You have proven your excellence after being tested by a rigorous curriculum and exacting clinical standards. You are ready to take the next steps of working and learning, side by side, with your professional colleagues in bringing better clinical and preventative health care to urban and rural areas of your our global community. We are all…parents, faculty, administration and supporters…proud of your accomplishments.

To your distinguished parents, I convey my personal congratulations for their untiring dedication to sustain your studies on an academic journey that began early in childhood. Your life long belief in the importance of education has made the work of AKU much more successful.

Since my visit in 1994, the city of Karachi has suffered from considerable social disruption and law and order problems. I want to take this occasion to express my deep admiration for everyone at AKU whose commitment to the University ensured that the quality of education it imparts has ​not suffered.

All of us, most closely associated with the Aga Khan University, may have concerns about the magnitude of development challenges which confront us, as our university moves towards the twenty first century. In responding to our Charter, the academic and social responsibilities that we enthusiastically undertake, appear to be significantly affected by the economic, demographic and political complexities of the developing, and the Islamic worlds. Our task is unusual and without precedent because the Muslim world as well as the other areas of have been let loose from the iron grip of the Cold War. Experimentation in statehood and uncertainty in economic direction, including the reversal of long held dogmas, have confronted new efforts for major social progress. New initiatives are delayed, sometimes even frustrated by resistance to the pace of technical and policy change which is required to meet the increasing reality of competitive globalised economies and information availability.

Because of these complexities, it appears increasingly evident that for institutions such as AKU to succeed, the notion of volatility and change must no longer be viewed with surprise, but with the realism that it is going to be a characteristic of our future environments. In this context, we must develop a University for students and society that is clear and stable in its goals of imparting knowledge and practical skills to solve problems, and to improve the quality of life even if this must occur in a kaleidoscopically changing world. Our institutional purpose must be lucid, our work ordered and purposeful.

When AKU received its Charter in 1983 higher education in the Muslim world, indeed in most of Asia and Africa, was on an established path of decline. Most, if not all of the centres of higher learning, were in the public sector. Many were being driven by the dynamics of national or international politics, and were seriously under-funded. The quality of their education was at best mediocre. But there was more. The curricula they taught were often inherited from a colonial past and had little or no relationship with the cultures of the people they served. Many universities educated away from, rather than towards, the needs of our new pluralistic world, in which multi-party democracy in government, and the free market credo have become so powerful that they can even condition countries' access to international development resources.

This was a sad state of affairs. It was compounded by convictions, in the Third World and in major international development agencies, that universities were elitist and would consume inordinate resources that could more properly be devoted to universal primary education.

Set against this background, however, was, and still is, the reality of human history. Few, if any, of our world's great civilisations have developed without the benefit of outstanding intellects, concentrated in institutions which very early on were recognised as foci of knowledge, or universities.

There can be no doubt that the apogee of many great civilisations – Chinese, Christian and Muslim – was attained when their societies had given birth to, or were benefiting from, unique centres of learning. For more than 700 years, Muslim leaders ensured the development of world class universities that flourished on cutting edge of research and vast libraries. The spread of knowledge was profound in scale and scope. It was a priority focus which energetically occupied the highest leadership elements of the Muslim Empires from of the Omayyads, to the Abbasids, the Fatimids, the Nasrids of Spain, the Almoravids of Morocco, the Western African Kingdoms…. And the expansive territories of the Mughals, Safavids, Ottomans, the Khanates of Central Asia and the Sultanates of Malaysia and Indonesia. The Muslim world was richly rewarded by these centres of learning which cradled the flourishing of Islamic civilisations and formed the crucible for an explosion of creativity and scholarship in medicine, science, art, literature, philosophy and architecture.

It is against this background of historical greatness, recent academic decline and urgent social need that the Aga Khan University was conceived. We exist because there is strong logic that we should. The political and economic environment in Pakistan and other Third World countries of Asia and Africa where AKU will be present may change, or generate other formidable challenges, but there must be no wavering in the University's firm dedication to the purposes for which it was created.

Our Charter committed the University, faculty and students to contribute to the resolution of the foreseeable needs of developing countries and the Muslim world through the promotion and dissemination of knowledge and technology by "appropriate means, setting the highest standards possible whether in teaching, research or service."

After thoroughly examining a wide range of alternatives, the University focused on development concepts which emphasised offering educational programs of excellence to students who are likely to make significant contributions to their societies. It stressed the need to develop more insightful research on critical issues, and to set examples of high quality education that could exert a constructive influence on other centres of learning within and beyond, the Muslim world.

In summary, if our University is to be useful to Pakistan and the developing world, we must not simply do things which are done well elsewhere. We must, rather, focus on what needs to be improved, and resolve to do it better than before and, indeed, better than at most other institutions.

To fulfil its role, and remain true to its Charter, the University must continue to grow. It must continue to improve its capabilities to impart knowledge and solve complex problems which increasingly have their roots in global issues. It must increase its capability to operate on a world scale in order to be effective at a community level. It must not be time bound if it is to stay ahead of the rapid pace of global technological change.

Today, we are entering a stimulating new phase of growth with expanded academic quality and more sophisticated service capability in our teaching hospital.

The Faculty of Health Sciences is the University's oldest and most advanced endeavour. It is appropriate, therefore, that many new accomplishments and initiatives are focused within that Faculty. The Rufayda School of Nursing building, and the Hadi Radiology building, have been successfully completed and inaugurated yesterday. Planning is in an advanced stage for new buildings to house the Community Health Sciences, and research programmes. Foundation stones for those buildings were also laid yesterday.

A Task Force has recently validated the operational soundness of the Institute for Educational Development's programmes and has identified steps for its strengthening their programs and for further development.

Significant geographic outreach is occurring with the training of students from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh, and with the planned establishment of a Professional Development Centre in the Northern Areas of Pakistan.

The University continues to expand, effectively, in other areas as well:

The School of Nursing is involved in planning an Institute of Advanced Nursing Studies to be located in East Africa and to offer post-basic training degrees for nurses. These degrees will be recognized in East Africa.

A second potential overseas programme now in planning which is the Institute of Islamic Civilisations, under consideration for location in London. This programme, recommended by the Chancellor's Commission, will focus on the compelling relevance of Islam, as a world religion and a diversity of cultures, in efforts to address global development issues and promote international understanding. The experience of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, of establishing highly effective and influential Islamic centres of learning in architecture, in the West itself, at Harvard and MIT, has demonstrated that a powerful "multiplier effect" can be achieved by catalysing the skills of East with West and speaking together on issues of critical development importance to the Islamic world.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a dynamic group of Muslim countries has emerged onto the world's centre stage. While they have enormous potential for the future, their economic transition has had a harsh impact on the quality of life of large segments of the population. As part of an Agreement of Cooperation between the Aga Khan Development Network, and the Government of Tajikistan, AKU has formed a joint Commission to consider the establishment of a Central Asian regional university specialising in high mountain studies in Khorog.

Clearly, AKU is effectively seeking to meet its intended role to serve the developing and Muslim worlds. In so doing, it is establishing crucial bridges of trust and co-operation for future regional collaboration and peaceful development, in other areas of Asia, and in Africa.

Reviewing the recent achievements of AKU provides a vivid reminder of how proud we are of the accomplishments realised through the continued generosity of donors. You have our most sincere gratitude. Your unwavering support repeated over the years, for scholarships, capital investments and the care of indigent patients has ensured the sustainability and growth of AKU programs.

Great peoples, nations and institutions live with what you in the medical sciences call bumps, bruises and major systems failures, yet they continue to demonstrate resilience in meeting future challenges. They continue towards greatness because they have determination, rationality of thought, resourcefulness and an inspiring vision of the future. With the devoted efforts of many generous and talented people, AKU has begun to create a meaningful community and global resource for the developing and Muslim worlds. It may be a new model of achievement and relevance. It must be our laser, instead of our candle, as we chart an optimal course into an uncertain future.

My good wishes and prayers are with you – the faculty, staff, graduates, students, and friends of AKU – as you go forward on your careers of service and education.​

Thank You.​​