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Speech at THE FOURTH CONVOCATION OF THE AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY - 1991-11-16

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Event - 1991-11-16
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Saturday, 1991, November 16
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SPEECH BY MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM ON THE OCCASION OF THE FOURTH CONVOCATION OF THE AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF HEALTH SCIENCES AND SCHOOL OF NURSING Saturday November 16th, 1991
Bismillahi-r-Rahman-r-Rahim

Your Excellency the Prime Minister Your Excellency the Governor of Sindh Acting Chief Minister of Sindh Excellencies Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University Faculty Members Students and their families Distinguished guests

Assalaam-Alaikum

The presence of His Excellency Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is no mere formality. His is a sincere personal commitment to improve the health of the people of Pakistan. I warmly appreciate his readiness to spend the day with us as evidence of that commitment.

We live in interesting times. The sudden implosion of communism has sent shock waves beyond any state boundaries. Old political unions have crumbled and new ones are hastily being constructed. Nationalistic aspirations, long suppressed, are being voiced, in some cases acrimoniously. Environmental concerns, belatedly acknowledged, have been exacerbated. The attention of the world's wealthy nations has been refocused by these events. Where five years ago multinational development agencies and individual donor countries directed help primarily to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, today stern competition is found from the fractured elements of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Moreover, where five years ago, the booming economies of developed countries permitted them to thinking expansive terms about aid to their economically less developed colleagues, today the recession that grips our increasingly inter-linked economies squeezes both local resources and the generosity of other countries.

As turmoil rises and boundaries erode, migration increases. The talented have the opportunity and often the inclination to move to countries where their skills can be put to full use and are rewarded. For a country like Pakistan to lose both monetary and human resources is doubly difficult.

Although it may be easy to see gloom in these events, it may be more accurate to see that they present opportunities to be seized with vigor. If the superpower tensions no longer tug so hard at Pakistan, Pakistan has more opportunity to focus its attention on its local problems. We may be entering a time when changes in the international climate encourage greater attention to the construction of those indigenous institutions that will carry Pakistan forward on its own.

We are here today to celebrate one of those institutions, but we should take the occasion to think of the importance of institutions in general. Like all institutions, this one is founded on a set of principles that define its mission. Common understanding of those principles allows all who are engaged in the work of the institution to co-ordinate efforts and maximize effectiveness in carrying out that mission.

Foremost, the Aga Khan University is dedicated to formulating and testing ideas for solving problems of Pakistan, the Ummah and the rest of the developing world. Like other universities, it is committed to advancing society by educating its most talented people. Distinctively, it seeks models for pursuing that advancement in ways that reconcile the ethic of Islam with the infinitude of possibilities that characterizes the modern western world. Allow our societies to benefit from those possibilities without being unnecessarily confused or unbalanced by them. For example, we encourage our students to achieve great individual success in their profession, but we try to help them retain a sense of responsibility to serve the community from which they come.

The University is also based on the principle of investment in people. Education is necessary, we believe, for a society to reach its full potential. In this development of human resources, the University is carrying out declared national policy. The University's work, shaped by its own distinctive mission, complements the government's social action programme which is so important in harnessing the powerful potential of individuals. The emphasis on human investment is increasingly recognised by such international agencies as the World Bank as a prerequisite to economic development and quality of life.

The University is a place where ideas are created and tested, where ideas compete on their merits. Just as the University should be a market place of ideas, we should seek to create a market place of institutions of higher education where different institutions are designed to meet different needs and where soundly based, well honed institutions succeed. This model of diversity and competition has characterised the education systems in those countries that have excelled in higher education. No one type of institution can meet all the educational needs of a society nor can an institution that is spared the rigours of competition be expected to sustain its cutting edge for long.

The distinctive nature of the Aga Khan University is not put forward as a mode for all others to follow. In fact, the very diversity of institutions of higher education in Pakistan and in the developing world is a source of strength that should be multiplied, not limited.

The principles on which this University is based offer a guide for negotiating the current period of financial constraints. During the coming year, as a concerned effort is made to consolidate the resources of the University, we must do all that we can to keep our good people and to sustain the highest level of quality in what we do. Without good people, we cannot offer quality, without quality, good people would not choose to stay.

Concentrating on the problems of the present is necessary, but it should not distract from the pursuit of ambitious goals of the future. We must look through today's problems to tomorrow's opportunities. Judging from progress in overcoming such problems as trade barriers in Europe and the political statement in the Middle East, I believe that by 1993, the University could benefit from renewed momentum in the world economy and confidence in world peace. So that the university can be prepared to take full advantage of that momentum, I have formed the Chancellor's Commission to advise me about the next era of growth of the Aga Khan University.

Whatever direction the University develops; with the advice of the Chancellor's Commission, it will need enhanced resources. The present programmes cannot be sacrificed for future growth. Here again, there is reason foroptimism. The endowments of the Medical Centre continue to grow. Donors have recently come forward to endow the library, two additional professorships, and a 5-bed ward for indigent patients. The endowment corpus already exceeds the equivalent of $49 million, or $100 million including pledges, and is growing.

The problems of development are far too large to be solved by any one institution, so I have asked the Chancellor's Commission to look at appropriate opportunities for collaboration. The Aga Khan University was conceived as an international university, chartered in Pakistan but reaching beyond its borders. Extending even further, the Commission will look at collaborative relationships with other universities in both the developing and developed world. If they can identify comparative advantages that are complementary, something may be created that can accomplish things beyond the reach of individual institutions.

I have also asked the Chancellor's Commission to consider anew how the University can collaborate effectively with the Government of Pakistan. Some of the policies of the present Government are showing the progress that can be made through encouragement of private enterprise and private not-for-profit institutions. I want to make sure that we assist that progress in whatever ways we can. I can imagine the Chancellor's Commission pointing to the value of our faculty engaging in policy-directed research, designing research studies, the outcomes of which could be directly applied to governmental programmes. I am certain that the Commission will take up the problem of the brain drain, since the attraction and retention of first rate faculty and staff is critical to the success of the University. Here, the Government of Pakistan and the University have common cause in finding ways to ensure that energetic, talented and ambitious professionals can find satisfaction in work in Pakistan. We must enable those professionals to have the resources, like libraries and information systems, that let them make full use of their talents and to help their own country while they fulfil their personal needs.

We live in interesting times. But fortunately, we have institutions designed to address the problems of those times and with an efficiency that does not put an undue burden on the public. These institutions can join together when partnership extends their reach and can proceed alone when they follow their distinctive vision. The developing world is challenged to find within itself the talent and commitment to meet its own needs. We do well to rise to that challenge, with considerable confidence that our self-reliance will be amply rewarded.

You who are graduating today are agents for meeting that challenge, for both the University and the country. You combine talent of rare proportion, dedication to service, and education available to all too few. We are proud of what you have accomplished. From you, we anticipate great things.

Source: African Ismaili (March 1992)

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