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High hopes for mountain campus

Monday, 28 August, 2000, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK

Students will be drawn from mountain areas

Plans to build a university focusing on the needs of mountain
societies have been launched in Central Asia.

The main campus is to be built in the town of Khorog in the
Pamir mountains - an area known as the roof of the world.

The university is being founded by three Central Asian states -
Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan - and the Aga Khan Foundation.

It is thought to be the first of its kind in the world. The aim
is to provide courses and research to help develop mountain communities at
the same time as preserving their culture.

There were handshakes and smiles from the two men who put
forward the idea. The Tajik President, Imomali Rakhmanov, and the leader of
the world's Ismaili community, the Aga Khan, signed a treaty to launch the
project in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

High-altitude challenges

The Pamir contains some of the greatest mountain ranges on earth.

Around 30m people live in mountainous areas stretching from
Central Asia to China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

They may differ in language, culture and history - but they
face similar challenges.

Farming at such high altitudes is difficult - there is little
or no industry and even less investment.

People living in the Pamir have long relied on humanitarian aid
for their survival. The challenge is how to help these isolated communities

Distance learning

Courses at the university will range from the natural sciences
to business and cultural studies. Students will be drawn from mountain areas.

The plan is to offer residential as well as off-site learning,
using internet technology.

The university's founders hope that in the future, other
countries will join the programme too, uniting mountain people across the
region in a way that has never been done before.

By Catherine Davis in Dushanbe

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