August 11, 2003

TAJIKISTAN: Development university for Central Asia taking shape

This site in Khorough eastern Tajikistan will host one of three campuses of the University of Central Asia

KHOROUGH, 11 Aug 2003 (IRIN) - In a unique international initiative, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is creating the University of Central Asia (UCA) with campuses in the three Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This will be the first private, internationally chartered university offering subjects related to sustainable development in these impoverished mountain societies.

"Education is a key to successful development in all the world's low-income countries," Nasir Virani, the UCA's business manager, told IRIN in Khorough, the capital of Tajikistan's eastern Badakhshoni Kuhi Province.

"In five to seven years time this whole place will be transformed," he said, pointing to green fields and houses, which will be turned into one of the campuses of the UCA.

The University of Central Asia is the world's first institution of higher education dedicated to the eradication of poverty in the vast regions of Central Asia and beyond.

UCA was established by an international treaty between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shi'ah Ismaili Muslims, in August 2000. The act has been ratified by the legislatures of each of the founding countries, and the institution has an initial endowment of US $15 million granted by the Aga Khan.

Besides the UCA's campus in Khorough, two additional campuses will be located respectively in Naryn in southern Kyrgyzstan at the heart of the Tien Shan mountains, and the town of Tekeli in the Taldykorgan area of southeastern Kazakhstan west of the Khrebet Dzhungarskiy Alatau mountain range bordering on China.

Initially, the University of Central Asia would serve some 25 million people, but over the long term, as the number of participating countries increases, UCA programmes would be extended into Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"The university will be private and independent, secular, coeducational, and will support pluralism while maintaining the highest international standards," Virani said. It would have a means-blind admission policy; entrance would be merit-based and irrespective of a student's background.

Lessons at UCA's Division of Continuing Education and Training have already started with some 4,000 beneficiaries trained in short-term intensive skill-development courses commencing 2002 in Khorough and surrounding districts. In coming years, the university will offer a master's programme in mountain-development studies.

In addition, a four-year undergraduate degree in liberal arts and sciences will consist of a well-rounded and interdisciplinary training in the humanities, social studies, management and natural sciences and engineering. "We want to create future leaders," Virani said.

Working in the field of social and economic development, as well as that of cultural preservation and promotion, the AKDN - a contemporary endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat, represented by the Aga Khan - brings together a number of agencies, institutions and programmes, that reflect and respond to the complexity - present and future - of the development process. To date, the AKDN has mobilised over $150 million, primarily for development initiatives in the high mountain zones of Central Asia.