Address by Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan

O​ctober 21, 2000​​


Your Excellency General Pervez Musharraf
Your Excellency the Governor of Sindh
Chairman and Members of the Board of Trustees
President Kassim-Lakha
Rector Vellani
Faculty Members
Distinguished Guests
Proud Parents of the Class of the year 2000
Graduating Students of the Aga Khan University
Ladies and Gentlemen


I would like to add my welcome to all of you, here to the family and friends of the Aga Khan University! It is an honour and a particular pleasure to have His Excellency General Pervez Musharraf here with us today.

Convocations are occasions for summing up, for stock taking, for congratulations, for celebration and for looking forward. They are a time for individuals, for families, for the components that make up a university and for the institution itself. As Chancellor I would like to speak to all of the audience, and to the future, as well as the present.

First I would like to speak to the students who are graduating today. I am sure that many of you feel that this is “your day”. This is understandable and justifiable – it is your day. Obtaining entrance to the Aga Khan University was a very significant measure of your merit and potential. The successful completion of your academic programmes is a second such measure, as represented by the degree or diploma that will be presented to you by the University. I offer congratulations to you personally and on behalf of the Board of Trustees.

In addition I would like to leave two thoughts with you. First, I anticipate that the professional qualification you receive today will not be the last one that a number of you, many I hope, will receive in the course of your careers. Education in this fast changing world has become a life-long affair. It is not too early to set new goals, to develop your vision. Second, this institution lives and grows on generosity. I urge you to be the very best ambassadors of that generosity towards society, throughout and in all the dimensions of your lives.

Let us turn now to another very important factor in the success of the young people we celebrate today – their families, their relatives and their friends. It takes a great deal for a student to succeed in a rigorous academic programme. Support from loved ones in many forms -- support to meet the costs and other material needs of an education, support in adjusting to new surroundings and new demands, support at times of stress, and sharing times of celebration, are all critically important. My congratulations and thank you.

I would like to take this occasion to speak about the many new developments in which AKU is engaged, in the city of Karachi, in Pakistan, and around the world as it moves to fulfil its mission as established in its Charter. Watching institutions evolve over time is very interesting. At first glance they seem to grow in fits and starts, with no major developments in some years, and then a rush of new activities, programmes, and accomplishments in a short space of time. This impression is valid in some measure. No institution has the time and resources to be in a constant mode of innovation and creation, even if the broader environment in which it operates is highly favorable. But in another sense it is misleading because major new developments take years for study and planning, for securing the required funding to ensure that no new undertaking draws resources away from the existing ones, and for the recruitment of new personnel and the construction of facilities. As the amount of time required for these essential steps varies, and some things move faster than others, it is often difficult to spread them out evenly over time. As I believe that you will soon appreciate, the last twelve to eighteen months have been one of those bursts of activity for the Aga Khan University.

My congratulations for an important job done, very well done.

Yesterday three new buildings were inaugurated that bring much needed facilities to the campus, the Juma Building which contains a Biological Safety Level Laboratory, the first of its kind in Pakistan, and the Ibn Ridwan Building. The new AKU Sports and Rehabilitation Centre contains facilities that will have an important impact on the quality of life of everyone in AKU and in the wider community. The Rehabilitation facilities are a very important addition to the Hospital’s other facilities for patient care. The foundation stone for the new Nazerali-Walji building was also laid yesterday. It is the first phase of new ambulatory care services at AKU in response to the increasing number of outpatients and gives them greater access to various medical services. Those at AKU responsible for supervising their construction deserve our thanks.

Universities are by their very nature, loss making operations. This is particularly the case for institutions involved in research. This is therefore an appropriate moment to say something about the critical importance of donors to the development of this remarkable institution.

Earlier this week, in Islamabad, I participated in a conference on Indigenous Philanthropy in Pakistan, which was graced by their Excellencies President Rafiq Tarar, and General Pervez Musharraf, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The meeting had several goals. One was to present findings of original research on current levels of giving and volunteering in this country, which showed much higher levels than many would have thought. Another was to recommend steps that could be taken to increase philanthropic activity and its application to institutions engaged in human resource and social development as well as to traditional charitable and religious activities.

AKU was cited as one of the models of effective development of philanthropic resources and of their use in Pakistan. Indeed as we gather here today, it is impossible not to be impressed with what the power of giving and volunteering can accomplish. I extend my sincere thanks to the donors who have made the new facilities possible. Looking more broadly at its fundraising, I would also observe that the University is now clearly a national institution whose spectrum of philanthropic support has steadily increased in breadth. We are grateful to all donors of funds, professional services and time who make this institution what it is today, and what it dreams to be tomorrow.

In addition to the development of these fine new facilities, steps are underway towards the establishment of a major new dimension of AKU that will extend its expression as a university. In keeping with the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Commission, the University has launched a feasibility study for the establishment of a College of Arts and Sciences in Karachi. In its initial phase, the new College will start at the undergraduate level and then progress to postgraduate studies. The undergraduate programme will follow the “liberal arts” model, and aims to develop the skills of critical thinking and analysis, a high order of proficiency in verbal and written communication, and the mastery of a particular academic discipline. An emphasis on ethics, especially of Muslim societies, and on community service, will infuse all of its programmes. The latest information and communication technologies will support the education programme, and their mastery will be one of its required outcomes.

I am happy that a senior member of the Board of Trustees, has agreed to assume a leadership position, and will be joined by a group of national and international experts to do a careful study of existing institutions and needs in Pakistan, and in the developing world, with special reference to the Ummah. The survey will form the basis for development of a specific plan for a College of Arts and Sciences that meets those needs in the most imaginative and effective manner. This process will take time, since the study group’s recommendations will lay the foundation which will need to be pursued diligently and consistently, over an extended period, to ensure the long-term internal integrity of the institution and its external results.

I am pleased to announce that the Government of Sindh and the Aga Khan University have agreed on the purchase of an 400-acre site for the College of Arts and Sciences on concessional terms. The new campus will be located at Deh Chohar on the link road between the Super Highway opposite the Sindh Madrassa. I am grateful for this concrete sign of support from the Government. As a reflection of the importance I attach to the development of this new expression of the Aga Khan University, I would like to announce a donation of $ 20 million to launch its funding.

Another recent development relates to AKU’s mission to reach out from its base in Karachi and become directly engaged in addressing problems at the local and regional levels. When the Aga Khan University was first conceived the Harvard University-led feasibility study recommended that AKU should begin its service to its constituencies by being a problem-oriented university. It should focus on the critical national demands for the delivery of social services to the country’s population, and especially to the most isolated and impoverished communities of Pakistan. Over the years, it has become evident that to impact health and education services in remote settings or in the katchi abadis in cities effectively, another type of institution is needed to form a bridge between them and the University.

Two days ago I had the pleasure of inaugurating a new Professional Development Centre in Gilgit designed to improve the quality of primary and secondary schools in the Northern Areas. The idea of establishing it originated in the realisation that students from schools there performed well below national averages year after year. This was true even for the better students from the better schools in the region, meaning that it was virtually impossible for students to secure places in the country’s leading universities and professional schools on the basis of merit. To break this cycle, the only solution was to find a way to upgrade the quality of the schools across the region.

The Centre will bring the programmes and experience of AKU’s Institute of Educational Development to the Northern Areas, to provide teachers with opportunities to enhance their effectiveness, and enable communities to look to their schools to attain higher standards of student achievement, and better use of scarce resources. The PDC will serve all schools in the catchment area; government schools as well as those operated by non-government organisations. Trainees at the Professional Development Centre will be taught by members of IED’s faculty and will receive certificates from the AKU-IED. AKU- IED’s involvement with the Centre is a critical form of outreach and also furthers its efforts to contribute to the development of women professionals. I have made a commitment to develop a hospital in Gilgit that will perform similar bridging functions between the Faculty of Health Sciences, the University Hospital and rural health centres with the assistance of the Aga Khan Health Services. I am convinced that this new pattern will magnify the impact of the resources of AKU throughout important regions of the country.

I would like to add a few additional comments about two new initiatives outside of Pakistan mentioned by Rector Vellani. The Advanced Nursing Programme, developed in response to the invitation of the three governments in East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – is the University’s first academic programme abroad. It is significant that it is an example of South-South, technical assistance, with a Pakistani institution providing assistance to other developing countries. I congratulate the School of Nursing for the progress that has been achieved on this new venture. I also salute the School for successfully completing twenty years of service to improving the delivery of health care and the development of women professionals in Pakistan.

The Institute of Islamic Civilisations in London will give expression to our University’s Islamic character, in an international context. Its programmes are quite distinctive. IIC will create an index of published works on Islamic civilisations in various languages, write abstracts and translate them into the major scholarly languages, and distribute the abstracts globally on the World Wide Web. This unique facility, will enable many experts around the world to access each other’s work for the first time.

The second activity involves the engagement of scholars and thinkers in thematic research on issues that affect contemporary societies that have escaped systematic attention in Muslim environments. Participants trained in both traditional and contemporary intellectual traditions, would take part in a given project through periods of residence at IIC and over the Internet, and results will be made available on the World Wide Web.

An education programme in Islamic civilisations would be the third area of activity. It would develop materials and curricula for the various units of AKU, other institutions in the Aga Khan Development Network, and a broad range of institutions from schools to higher education, in Muslim and other societies. IIC will also organise short courses and seminars around themes, or for specialised groups such as diplomats, journalists, and businessmen. A more formal post graduate programme designed to engender a critical humanistic approach to the study of Islamic civilisations will follow.

Reflecting on this long list of new and impending developments yields several conclusions. The first is that AKU has become a genuinely national institution. It is engaged in addressing national needs by developing high quality human resources in the fields of health and education, engaging in problem oriented research, working with government on policy issues, and reaching out to become directly involved in upgrading the delivery of critical social services at the local and regional levels. The second is that, with the decision to establish the College of Arts and Sciences, AKU will take the major step of moving beyond professional education toward becoming a comprehensive university in its classical form. The third is that the establishment of the Advanced Nursing Programme in Eastern Africa, and of the Institute of Islamic Civilisations in London, give life to the University as a Pakistani institution with an international mandate, reaching out as an expression of Pakistan into the international community.

The question before this institution at this moment in time is to ensure that it can maintain quality and integrity as it takes on many new activities. What are the specific parameters which should concern us? We cannot take the time this afternoon to formulate all of them, but I would suggest a few as a basis for further consideration:

The quality of the university’s graduates and their contributions towards improving social services in Pakistan.

The institution’s performance in reaching isolated and impoverished communities with quality professional services.

The fulfilment of the School of Nursing's special role to produce graduates who are sophisticated women professionals making a direct impact in their field, but also acting as role models for women in Pakistani society more generally.

A research programme that is beginning to push the boundaries of knowledge, particularly with respect to human development needs in Pakistan and the developing world.

The University ensures three important attributes, or goals, are in constant view as it reviews existing programmes and adds new ones: quality, relevance and impact.

I would like to take a few more minutes to inform the Aga Khan University community of one other new initiative of great significance to the work of the Aga Khan Development Network and to me. It is not another programme or division of AKU - let me be very clear about that. People have whispered in my ear: ‘does this mean resources are going to go elsewhere?’ It is the addition of a younger sibling of the Aga Khan institutions, and like any younger brother or sister, it will need the help of its elders.

In late August I travelled to Central Asia to sign an International Treaty between the Presidents of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan and the Ismaili Imamat, to create a new institution of higher education. The University of Central Asia will be dedicated to developing teaching and research programmes focussed on the problems and potentials of the thirty million people, and the mountains in which they live at the convergence of the highest mountain ranges in the world.

The legal formulation of the University of Central Asia is unique. It is the first to be created as a single organisation under international law, signed at the highest level of government, and encompassing a number of states in a particular region. Its main campus will be located in Khorog on the Panj River, in Tajikistan, with programmes and facilities in the mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The Undergraduate Division will offer courses of study in engineering sciences, the natural sciences, the social sciences, and cultural studies, but all students will be required to take courses across the curriculum, and courses in market economics, field research methods, and institutions of civil societies.

The Graduate Division will offer an interdisciplinary degree in mountain studies. Over time, concentrations in particular fields such as environmental management, cultural protection and enhancement, and tourism will be developed.

The Continuing Education Division will offer a variety of independent, non-degree courses in general education, skills, and retooling for mid-career professionals in government, non-government organisations, and the private sector, and special topics of particular interest making full use of the methods of distance education.

Faculty and staff and students will be openly recruited throughout the region, and selected on the basis of merit. Special programmes will be provided to enable faculty and students to acquire expertise in English and the use of communication and information technologies.

This University will be a new, freestanding institution within the Aga Khan Development Network. While it will not be part of the Aga Khan University, it will certainly look to AKU for its experience and expertise on a wide range of policies and practical matters. Indeed many at AKU have been deeply involved in the study, planning and negotiating to bring the University of Central Asia to its current stage of development. President Kassim-Lakha served as the Co-Chair of the Organisation Commission that undertook the feasibility study, and many of his colleagues contributed to the work of its committees. Here is an example of Pakistan’s first private university, playing a leadership role in creating a new university in a region of enduring interest to this country, and thereby, establishing a timeless opportunity for intellectual, academic and other interchanges between Pakistan and the countries of Central Asia.

I have taken a great deal of time to outline the many endeavours in which the Aga Khan University will be engaged in the coming years. Progress on them will be dependent on the context and conditions in Pakistan. It is a source of confidence and hope that His Excellency General Musharraf is here today, as the direction he will give to Pakistan’s social and economic development and international relations will have a significant impact on all Pakistani institutions. This is particularly the case for universities given their responsibility to educate the nation’s future intelligentsia and leadership and to project the country to the outside world through their work.

May Allah bless us all in this endeavour

Thank you.