Stephen M. Lyon (Professor of Anthropology & Head of Educational Programmes):
"Members of Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisation are part of a project funded in part by the Erasmus+ scheme of the European Union to support Kazakhstan’s university sector in transitioning towards greater autonomy (Transition to University Autonomy in Kazakhstan – TRUNAK). David Taylor (former Director and Head of Educational Programmes) and I (current Head of Educational Programmes) have travelled to workshops in Kazakhstan, Sweden and Slovenia to share our experiences of public and private universities in the UK. While the UK is often held up as a model of autonomy, the truth is that higher education is subject to considerable regulation in a number of areas. Fiscal regulation, externally set and assessed educational and research standards, immigration legislation and a variety of other regulatory frameworks all impact directly on individual universities’ autonomy—sometimes to the great frustration of academics. Here at AKU-ISMC we face a complex regulatory landscape in which we must report to, and satisfy, a host of auditors from distinct national jurisdictions. AKU operates in multiple countries and so the internal auditing processes have been designed to be robust and comprehensive to address the extensive, and complex, requirements. One consequence of this internal auditing is that when the external auditors arrive on our doorstep, we are confidently able to demonstrate the effectiveness of our teaching methods and content in relation to our core mission. One important feature of universities based in Britain, including AKU-ISMC, however, is that they are remarkably well protected from political interference in the content of their teaching programmes or research projects. Academic freedom to address controversial or unpopular research topics and to explore them with students in the classroom remains a cherished hallmark of higher education in Britain, whether in privately or publicly funded universities. The Aga Khan University, both at its off-shore campus in London, as well as all of the other AKU campuses around the world, is committed to protecting academic exploration into what some might consider difficult research topics. An unwavering commitment to academic excellence, coupled with academic freedom, enables universities to live up to the exalted promise of being the public good that I believe they should be. Part of the goal of the TRUNAK project, therefore, is to not only openly discuss the bureaucratic constraints that sometimes keep us on our toes and help us to demonstrate our value, but also to urge them to strive for the intellectual ambition to research and teach on the topics that matter most—even when that may not be popular or easy."