The mission of the Aga Khan University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is to educate leaders. The reason is simple: leaders drive positive change. They initiate it, rally support for it and collaborate with others to orchestrate its forward march in the face of indifference and opposition. They invigorate civil society, champion good governance, promote social and economic development, foster appreciation for pluralism and encourage ethical behaviour. They empower multitudes to create a better world.
When we speak of leaders, we mean all those individuals who possess the character and the intellectual capacities necessary to improve people’s lives – and especially the lives of the disadvantaged. We think of the entrepreneur who creates a low-cost product that meets the needs of the poor. The community organizer who amplifies the voices of the marginalized to ensure their rights are respected.
The researcher who spotlights a looming environmental crisis and sparks action. The journalist whose exposés lead to reform. The novelist who inspires us to re-examine our lives and ideals. We think of all those impassioned and well-informed men and women who say, “We must do better,” and then take considered action to bring about the future they wish to see.
In Asia and elsewhere, higher education has long been synonymous with professional education: students attend university to obtain the qualification needed to begin a career in medicine, engineering or law, or to study a single subject such as business. But there is another approach with a long and distinguished history, one that seeks, in the words of an early proponent, “not to teach that which is peculiar to any of the professions, but to lay the foundation for that which is common to them all.”
This form of education develops the whole person with a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary learning experience that equips graduates for success in whatever career they eventually choose, as well as for active citizenship and meaningful lives. This is the approach to undergraduate education taken by renowned universities such as Harvard and Yale, as well as small but highly regarded liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst. It is this tradition that has inspired the creation of FAS – precisely because it is known for producing leaders in every field of human endeavour.