Assalam-u-alaikum and good morning. Welcome to the 2016 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.
It is wonderful to see all the parents and family members gathered here today – I know many of you have long dreamed of this day. It is an honor to be able to host our many donors, who have shared their success with the University and placed their trust in us. And we are grateful to the Chief Minister for sharing this occasion with us. The presence of all our guests is a humbling reminder that the work we do at the Aga Khan University depends upon the sacrifices, generosity and support of a great many others.
Graduands, this is a day when all of us celebrate your achievements – parents, faculty, staff, leaders and friends of the University. It is a day when you feel an unmistakable pride in your accomplishments, and with every justification. That you are sitting here today is proof of your passion for learning, and it demonstrates that you can compete with the best the world has to offer.
Yet if you look within yourselves, I think you will recognize another emotion as well: the sense of being connected to something larger than yourselves. That something may be the community of friends you have built here. It may be your family, whose love and support you have honored with your achievement. It may be the University and its vision. It may be the great enterprise of learning and innovation that spans the globe and the centuries. But that sense is certainly there.
One need not look far to also find challenges. They are all around us. All of you have studied them in your time here, and witnessed them in your lives.
Sixteen years ago, the nations of the world, Pakistan included, came together to commit to reducing poverty, hunger, illness, illiteracy and prejudice. They called the goals they adopted the Millennium Development Goals, and they aimed to achieve each of them by 2015.
The goals were ambitious. And while Pakistan improved in many areas, the latest figures show it was among the countries that did not meet key goals in health and education. Education levels are poor, preventable deaths of mothers and children continue to occur, and malnutrition remains common.
The consequence is tremendous suffering and wasted human potential. But what does this represent, if not the great task that we are all seeking, and for which your education has prepared you? With the skills you have developed at AKU, you can help to bring about the world that we all want to see, in which suffering and injustice have been consigned to history.
2015 is behind us. Yet the urge of the Millennium Development Goals expressed – the urge to unite behind a common agenda for the betterment of humanity – has not dissipated. 193 countries, including Pakistan, have committed to achieve a new set of goals by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals. If Pakistan were to meet them, it would be a country transformed – a place where no child suffers from hunger, every boy and girl is taught by well-qualified teachers, and all people have access to high-quality health care.
At AKU, we are working to make that vision a reality, as an educator of leaders, a source of research that generates solutions to critical challenges and a provider of life-saving health care.
The Aga Khan University health system in Pakistan includes not only the AKU Hospital but five additional hospitals, and by year-end will feature 250 outreach medical centres in 106 cities. This year we expect to treat more than 1.3 million patients. We also expect to provide care to half a million low-income patients, making it affordable for them through a subsidy of 2 billion rupees from our Patient Welfare Programme.
In total, the University has invested 60 billion rupees in Pakistan over the last 15 years. Recently, we raised 2.7 billion rupees from more than 100 generous donors from Pakistan for capital projects here on our Stadium Road campus. This funding has allowed us to increase access to life-saving care by investing in neonatal and paediatric intensive care, building state of the art operating rooms, including one with the latest in neuro-navigation for brain surgery, and expanding our diagnostic capabilities.
I want to acknowledge at this point that we are also celebrating today two donations that the University received in 1996 – one for the radiology building and the other for the academic building in the School of Nursing and Midwifery. We are very grateful to the donor families for these two building, who have come back to AKU after 26 years. I want to express on behalf of all of us our gratitude to the Hadi and Feerasta Families.
We will also build a Cardiac Centre of Excellence that will allow us to see 30,000 more cardiac patients annually. Construction of our new 82-bed Private Wing is underway. When completed it will be the largest single increase in the number of beds at the Hospital in more than 30 years.
Last year, we inaugurated the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education. This 80,000-square-foot facility is the first of its kind in Pakistan, and provides our medical, nursing and midwifery students and faculty with opportunities to hone their skills using new simulation technologies.
This morning, we will graduate our 13,500th student. Alumni of our Institute for Educational Development are improving education across Pakistan, as classroom instructors, school leaders, teacher educators and ministry officials. Graduates of our Faculty of Health Sciences are enhancing clinical care, public health, health professional education and research, in Pakistan and at some of the world’s top hospitals and universities. In a time of conflict, graduates of our Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London bring a deep understanding of the ways in which Muslim societies have negotiated diversity and change.
As a private, not-for-profit and autonomous university, we will continue to chart our own course in everything from admissions to curricula, to ensure we deliver the highest-quality education possible. The research of our faculty members is producing valuable insights into non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and lung disease, as well as injuries. Although together these account for an estimated 60 percent of deaths in Pakistan, they have received too little attention. Therefore we are working to determine their prevalence and their causes, and to devise cost-effective methods for preventing and treating them that can be adopted by private and government providers.
AKU’s research in maternal and child health continues to generate proven approaches for saving the lives of mothers and children. Recently, we have helped to double vaccination rates in rural Sindh in a short time. Over the next several years, we will be working to save lives among more than 1 million women, children and adolescents across Pakistan, and in East Africa. This work is supported by more than 45 million US dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Affairs Canada and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
AKU’s Institute for Educational Development trained more than 4,000 government teachers in rural Sindh and Balochistan over seven years with funding from Canada. This project generated much valuable evidence regarding what works in teacher training. The AKU Examination Board, the only private examination board in Pakistan, is actively working to raise standards and share the lessons it has learned from its experience in improving education in 160 middle and secondary schools across Pakistan.
But the challenges we face today are too numerous, too complex and too intertwined for the University to rest on its laurels. That is why we plan to develop into a comprehensive university offering a multidisciplinary undergraduate education to develop inquiry, higher order cognitive abilities and leadership, as well as graduate professional education in fields essential to the country’s future.
The first step will be building our Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Education City. This will be the largest single investment the University has made in Pakistan since its inception. Students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will receive a liberal arts education that prepares them for leadership, inspires them to pursue audacious goals and instills a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. They will develop the ability to think critically, write clearly, tackle problems creatively, value pluralism and ponder the deepest questions. They will study subjects critically important to the country and the region, and have opportunities to apply what they learn in the real world. They will live and learn on a campus alive with energy, a place where freedom of thought and expression are actively encouraged among a diverse student body and faculty. When they graduate, they will have the skills employers covet, and go on to become entrepreneurs, executives, scientists, artists and social critics, among many other things.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will mark yet another contribution to Pakistan’s development by our Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan. We look forward to working closely with the Chief Minister and the Government of Sindh to advance the development of Education City and make it possible to build the AKU Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Graduands, with the knowledge and skills you have developed, you can make an extraordinary difference. You have the opportunity to join the countless people here at AKU, across Pakistan and around the world who are working to address the toughest challenges we face.
You will notice I have used the word “opportunity” rather than “responsibility.” I have done so deliberately. It is not for me to tell you to whom or to what you are responsible. But I have now been president of this University for a decade. To hold this position has been the great privilege of my career. So I speak from my own experience when I say that to work on behalf of a great cause, to seek to do what has never been done, is an experience as thrilling and inspiring as any you will ever know.
There is no greater reward than the knowledge that your efforts have deeply and positively impacted the lives of a great many people. The chance to experience that knowledge for yourself is an opportunity indeed – one I urge you not to miss.
Thank you, and congratulations to all of you. I look forward to learning of your many achievements in the years to come.