Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University
Your Excellency, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister of Finance of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Chairman, Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi
Members of the Board of Trustees
Provost, Dr Greg Moran
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Parents and distinguished guests,
And most importantly Graduands.
As Salaam Walaikum and good evening,
Welcome to the 2012 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.
For the Graduands today, is a day of great celebration because you are passing an important milestone.
Congratulations to you all!
Today you will be conferred with a degree that recognizes your mastery of a professional field, which at AKU means mastery at an international standard. We recognize that you have earned that degree through hard work, diligent effort and meritorious performance.
We have among our graduates today, 140 new nurses, 94 new doctors, 20 Master of Science graduates and 20 Master of Bioethics graduates as well as 31 Master of Education graduates. I want to draw special attention to our PhD in Education graduate who will be honoured today and 29 Advanced Diploma students who will graduate with qualifications in Human Development, Health Professions Education and Teaching of English as a Foreign Language.
We are proud of each one of you.
You leave this University as ambassadors of this institution and examples of what this University stands for – professional competence with a capacity to solve problems, through critical thinking and compassion and with high ethical standards.
To parents and families: you have been indispensable in supporting the students all these years; your pride and joy is as much ours. Without your support and confidence, these students would not be where they are today as behind every graduate there is a story of dedication and commitment - a story of parental and familial guidance and encouragement. That is very evident today.
This is a particularly auspicious ceremony as it marks the 25th Convocation of the Medical College of the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. An historic occasion, such as this, is an opportunity to revisit and to remember the guiding principles upon which the Aga Khan University was founded. The principles of quality, relevance, impact and access have been the foundation of this University for the past 30 years. These principles have guided every aspect of the University's development – from its admissions criteria to its programme development to its community outreach activities.
Today, I would like to take a few moments to focus on one of these, which is the principle or the value of quality.
Why is quality important?
This is a value that I believe to be critically important, because there is a tendency by countries in the developing world to focus more on quantity over quality. It is in times of change or for reasons of expediency that quality is often compromised in an effort to maximize numbers or coverage, generally using limited resources. Experience has shown that the result of this approach is a sea of mediocrity, as standards drop to the lowest common denominator. The pursuit of quality – especially in the higher education sector - is vital at all times. It is what drives us higher, makes us better and improves our standards. In the words of our Chancellor “Quality is the only guarantor of success."
So what is quality?
While sometimes difficult to define, you will recognize it immediately. How? Because it stands out. The Aga Khan University was founded on the principle of quality and thirty years after its establishment, the university is still considered to be the highest quality health or education institution in the country. Students and patients, faculty, doctors choose to come to AKU because of its quality. This position was achieved through the consistent, unwavering pursuit of a standard of excellence – an ethos that was put into place by the Founder and Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, His Highness the Aga Khan and one that has been rigorously applied ever since. It has not been an easy road and it is required commitment, discipline, rigour and money.
So how do we measure quality?
Quality is measured in several ways, depending upon your perspective. At AKU, we do not rely only on our own measurements. We ask experts in the field to benchmark our performance and outcomes of quality. For example, the Aga Khan University Hospital is audited and accredited by the Joint Commission from the USA. This is the gold standard in hospital quality and we are the only hospital to receive this accreditation in Pakistan and only a very few in South Asia. For our academic programmes, we assess where our graduates perform in international tests and we find that our students perform in the top quartile of international qualification exams.
So how do we maintain quality?
To maintain quality is the most difficult part. It starts with the best people, who are passionately committed to perform at the highest standards. The buildings that exude a sense of quality, the equipment and technology that deliver the best care or education, the infrastructure that supports these lofty goals. For example, Karachi suffers from load shedding regularly (as all of us know), but AKU is able to work through shortages of electricity and water, to deliver quality care to our patients and teach our students, why? because we have our own power source and water storage to enable us to deliver quality at all times. Another way, our partner universities also assist us in ensuring high standards through joint research and projects. Many factors affect quality. But one thing is clear, quality is a result of a thousand individual decisions we make everyday.
So what is our responsibility in this area?
All of us who are or have been part of AKU carry a heavy responsibility, not only to uphold the standards of our campuses and hospitals but also our graduates, who will carry what you have learnt about quality to wherever you go next. Excellence is our hallmark, which is recognized around the world where AKU graduates go as I proudly hear from institutions where our graduates work or study.
What are the consequences of lower quality?
As we know, building quality takes. Losing quality can happen instantly. Quality can slip very easily, if we are not vigilant and tenacious. Compromises are tempting and sometimes only known to the individual making them, but the consequences are always deleterious and widespread. When we do not maintain quality, our patients and our students suffer. And so does our reputation.
Quality costs money.
Achieving and maintaining quality standards requires a willingness to change, improve and stretch to meet evolving benchmarks. As these benchmarks continue to rise, so too do the efforts and costs of achieving them. Maintaining quality requires increased funding – and the solutions to this shortfall are not simple. Already, a student's tuition fees at AKU covers only 20 per cent of the cost of educating a student. The challenge for us is to maintain our international quality standards in the face of costs increasing with inflation. When fees are capped or controlled, this imbalance cannot be reconciled.
This importance of quality underscore by Remarks by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony of the Aga Khan Academy in Kampala, Uganda because I think its capture the essence of what the message is today and I quote:
“The final point I would emphasize today, above all else, is our uncompromising commitment to Quality - in every aspect of the Academy experience. Our hallmark will be quality students, quality instructors, quality facilities - an unwavering devotion to world-class standards. Let the day be long past when some could excuse mediocrity by saying that it was “good enough for Africa" or today we could say that we could compromise it say it good enough for Pakistan.
Many people comment that Pakistan is going through trying times so what is the point of focusing on quality. We respectfully disagree. Quality is a mindset, a way of thinking, an attitude. It is exactly during the times of change, crisis or difficulties that quality standards help maintain confidence, provide an anchor, enable individuals, businesses and institutions not just to survive, but to thrive.
Two eminent persons who have been instrumental in enabling AKU to achieve and maintain quality are our Founding Trustees, Dr. Robert Buchanan and the (Late) Dr. Fraser Mustard. Earlier this afternoon, we recognized their outstanding contributions to AKU over 27 years by naming lecture halls after each of them in the presence of these Trustees or their families. At today's Convocation we will say more and honour these two Trustees.
I have talked a lot about quality this evening. As I look out across this sea of green (in front of me), it is evident that the most tangible evidence of our commitment to quality is in the seats in front of me. You – our students and now alumni - are the greatest proof of what happens when an institution decides to invest steadfastly, in quality higher education.
Graduands, today you have achieved a significant milestone. An education is a long-term investment by you, your family and society that has been making you. As you walk across the stage today, hold up you head high in the knowledge that you have earned an education that is on par with any other in the world.
As you embark on your new future, uphold the qualities you developed at AKU. It is up to you, the next generation of leaders, to continue the legacy that has been started here before you . Do not forsake quality. Recognize its value and commit to upholding it.
Go forward with our best wishes and prayers for success. Make us proud.