<br> BBC
Monday, 5 July, 2004,
15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

Mountain-high university planned

By Monica Whitlock
BBC's Central Asia correspondent

The Aga Khan, leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims, has been describing his plans for a university in one of the most remote areas on earth.

The university, high in the heart of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan in Central Asia, will be the first specifically for mountain people.

It will serve a population scattered across a vast, isolated area stretching from Afghanistan to China.

Most people there live in poverty and use donkey carts for transport.

Life is a constant struggle against winter storms, hunger and often earthquakes.

The Aga Khan told the BBC a huge number of people needed the university.

"We are talking about something of the order of 40m people who live in the highest mountain ranges in the world, with the Karakorum and the Pamir," he said.

"When we looked at their future, the question was how do you educate people to live in those environments successfully in the decades ahead?"

International scholars

Much of the teaching will be by satellite-link, potentially putting the Pamiris in touch with classrooms and professors around the world. There is talk, for example, of a hook-up with Harvard Medical School.

But the university will also bring international scholars to the Pamir.

And it is not just for the Tajiks. The university should draw students from all across the mountain region. "In Afghanistan I think it will [continue to] have a role," said the Aga Khan.

"In north-west Pakistan I think it will have a role; in western China also.

"And Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey - all these countries that have high mountain populations."

The Aga Khan is due to lay the foundation stone on Wednesday. Work will then begin on a campus designed by the post-modernist Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki.

The first students should begin their studies in 2007.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/07/05 15:02:04 GMT