Glimpses from the 2013 Aga Khan University Convocation, with a Summary of Seven Key Themes in His Highness the Aga Khan’s Address
Compiled and Prepared by Abdulmalik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, Simergphotos and Simerg)
1. SUCCESS STORY: THE CONSTITUENTS WHO MAKE IT HAPPEN
“I am delighted, first of all, to extend my warmest congratulations to our graduands and to your families. Bravo! We wish you enormous success in your future careers, knowing that your success will be a mark of our success….As graduands you will be joining an illustrious family of earlier graduates. Many of our alumni are here today…When you first came as students to AKU, you did not know us and we did not know you, and yet we came to have great faith in one another. And you have fully justified that faith, using your education for good and great purposes…
“The academic heart of the University, of course, is our Faculty….The exemplary devotion of our Faculty, both to their students and to their disciplines, is the bedrock on which our University is built.
“Another constituency that I am proud to salute today are the donors who have shared the goals of this young institution, and have assisted it so much in their accomplishment…. University success stories down through history…have depended, inevitably, on a variety of external resources…Those resources, let me add, include not only material gifts, but also the great gifts of time and knowledge that so many contribute to our progress.
“The University’s Management, of course, also deserves special thanks, as it works daily to coordinate our energies and sustain our functioning, not only here in Karachi, but, uniquely, on multiple international campuses.
“Finally, let me mention the immense good fortune we have enjoyed through the work of our distinguished Trustees. From the start, they have been leaders of exceptional competence and dedication, bringing to us the fruit of their distinctive personal experiences, as well their wise global perspectives. Each of our trustees over the past thirty years has left a lasting imprint on the University.”
2. WHAT HIS HIGHNESS INHERITED FROM HIS GRANDFATHER:
“QUEST FOR INTELLECTUAL EXCELLENCE”
“My grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, was deeply aware of Islam’s rich intellectual heritage….He had engaged personally in developing educational opportunities for Muslims in pre-partition India – and was largely responsible for creating Aligarh University. He saw that effort as fulfilling a tradition going back one thousand years, to the role of his predecessors, the Fatimids, in founding the Azhar University and the Dar ul-Ilm in Cairo, known through the ages as the House of Knowledge.
“…the most brilliant periods in Islamic history were marked by an expansive quest for intellectual excellence. It was this tradition that I inherited from my grandfather – and it was not a static tradition, but one that was built around the power of new knowledge and the great adventure of learning how to go on learning.”
3. THE PLIGHT OF EDUCATION IN THE MUSLIM WORLD AND
THE CHALLENGES OF CREATING A NEW UNIVERSITY
“….as the industrialised world grew economically, and as the Ottoman empire faded, prominent centres of knowledge emerged most rapidly in the West. Meanwhile, universities in the Muslim world, with some exceptions, generally tended to tread water.
“It was this situation that confronted us as we began to plan AKU. We had high hopes, but, to be candid, we also felt some trepidation. Was higher education still a central pillar around which to build the quest for human development? Were the costs justifiable when compared to other priorities? If we went forward, could we find appropriate allies, including a distinguished faculty? Would graduates emigrate to developed societies – rather than staying to serve their home communities?
“The fundamental question, in sum, was whether a new university in the developing world, in this day and age, could achieve sufficient levels of excellence – as measured by global standards – to bring genuine value to those we were committed to serve.
“We felt that we answered these questions successfully….And I think we can fairly say that the University has performed well when measured against our original goals.”
4. THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY AND ITS GEOGRAPHIC EXPANSION
“Simply in quantitative terms, AKU expanded over the years into eight different countries, opening unique opportunities for combined study in Asia and in Africa. We created two degree or diploma programmes in the 1980’s, two more in the 1990’s, and another 21 programmes since the year 2000, reflecting expanding arcs of knowledge. These programmes have now graduated over ten thousand students…..We are proud, too, that our graduates are consistently judged to be among the best when they take licensing exams or apply to other leading institutions.
“A key ingredient in this story has been our open-access philosophy, enabling us to enrol students, on merit, from a vast array of backgrounds; some 70 percent of current students receive some form of financial support. And another critical standard, of course, has been AKU’s resolute commitment to social relevance, to addressing real problems and improving the quality of daily life.
“For all of these reasons we can say that our recent past, like our distant past, has been one of proud accomplishment. And it is upon these accomplishments that we now seek to build the University’s future. As we do so, we are sharply aware that the pace of change is accelerating, that our global neighbourhood is shrinking…In such a world, creativity and flexibility will be essential to our success.
“Our founding blueprint for AKU embraced this understanding and an evolving development process…it also anticipated the University’s expansion into new geographic areas and into new fields of knowledge. In fulfilling that vision AKU has become a multi-campus university.”
5. ON BECOMING A DISTINGUISHED LIBERAL ARTS UNIVERSITY
“In addition, the Trustees have also embraced a second great challenge – the challenge of becoming a distinguished liberal arts university….today, the explosion of knowledge seems overwhelming. But the knowledge explosion is precisely what makes a liberal arts platform even more valuable. The liberal arts, I believe, can provide an ideal context for fostering inter-disciplinary learning, nurturing critical thinking, inculcating ethical values, and helping students to learn how to go on learning about our ever-evolving universe.
“A liberal arts orientation will also help prepare students for leadership in a world where the forces of civil society will play an increasingly pivotal role….In places where government has been ineffective, or in post-conflict situations, civil society has demonstrated its potential value for maintaining, and even enhancing, the quality of human life.
“And this is also true of another, complementary investment we will be making at AKU – the creation of seven new graduate professional schools.”
6. SEVEN NEW GRADUATE SCHOOLS
“These new graduate schools are exciting.
“ Our new School of Media and Communications is already building capacity in Nairobi to help lift the quality of media industries in the developing world…. The School of Leadership and Management will develop the capacity of its students to guide business organisations, but also social enterprises and civil society institutions amid the complex challenges that face developing countries….. The Leisure and Tourism programme, meanwhile, will focus on the broad tourism value-chain, from public policy to infrastructure to cultural assets….. The School of Architecture and Human Settlements, on the other hand, will build enhanced design professionalism, emphasising functionality and cultural sensitivity…. The School of Government, Public Policy and Civil Society will prepare and empower professionals to formulate and implement public policies in developing societies,  while our new School of Law will focus on subjects such as constitutional devolution, international law, dispute resolution, intellectual and real property, and the management of capital markets. [and 7] Finally, a programme in Economic Growth and Development will respond to the particular needs of developing economies, including fields such as agriculture and horticulture, tourism and leisure, the extractive industries, and digital arts and services.” (Note: bracket numbering by editor)
7. BOLD AND BRAVE AMBITIONS, AND THE IMAM’S CONFIDENCE GOING FORWARD
“This is an outline then of what AKU may look like thirty years from now. These will seem to be ambitious goals – some may say they are too ambitious. But I disagree. Our goals were ambitious, after all, back in 1983. And yet, if we could have glimpsed into the future then – if we could have forecast what this day would look like – I think we would have been very happy with the way the story has unfolded.
“And so it is that we see ourselves today in the context of a rich historical tradition, and a recent past filled with genuine achievement. For that, I want to express again, to all of you, the deep sense of joy and gratitude that I feel as I join you for this celebration, and as we look together to our challenging, promising future.”
Date posted: Friday, December 20, 2013
Photo and Speech Credits: The Aga Khan Development Network, www.akdn.org
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Now audio/video of the convocation speech also available at Nanowisdom