AKU an icon of quality education all over the world says PM Shaukat Aziz
In his address at Aga Khan University's (AKU) Convocation 2005, the Chief Guest, His Excellency Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, said, "I am privileged to be in this centre of excellence, which is an icon of quality education all over the world." Observing that unhealthy nations can never progress, he reiterated that in order to become global competitive players, it is necessary to acknowledge a new paradigm and education systems need to change. "We need an education culture that harnesses the potential of our young generation to the full and produces innovative people."
His Highness the Aga Khan, Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Chancellor of AKU, presided over AKU's 18th Convocation ceremony, marking the graduation of 275 students in the fields of medicine, nursing and education. The ceremony was attended by the Governor and Chief Minister of Sindh, federal and provincial ministers and secretaries, vice-chancellors, senior government and armed forces officials, diplomats, national and international academicians, donors, and prominent citizens. The Chairman and Members of the University's Board of Trustees, as well as faculty members, students and parents also attended the Convocation.
The Prime Minister expressed his deepest gratitude to the Aga Khan for his contribution announced at the recent International Donors' Conference held in Islamabad last month. He admired the Aga Khan's vision, noting that, "Every time, Your Highness, you visit Pakistan, it is a matter of source and pride for every Pakistani. You are an asset to Pakistan."
He praised AKU's planning, rehabilitation, educational and medical services for the quake-victims, and observed, "The strong emphasis on community health education that forms part of learning at AKU, perhaps provides the students a distinct advantage in dealing with situations such as the one being faced by a large number of Pakistani citizens affected by this calamity."
Stressing the importance of investing in all educational disciplines, including Social Sciences, the Prime Minister announced an allotment of 500 acres of land for AKU's upcoming Faculty of Arts and Sciences, an addition to the previously allotted 500 acres by the Sindh Government in 2003.
Addressing the gathering, the Aga Khan reflected on the tragedy of the recent earthquake on October 8 in Kashmir and the NWFP where tens of thousands of men, women and children lost their lives, communities were split apart and local economies were shattered by the force of nature. The Aga Khan emphasised the importance of civil society institutions such as AKU, in providing the rapid and effective response to those affected by the disaster. Despite these tragic circumstances, he rejoiced in the steadfastness and achievements of the new graduates. "We rejoice not only because you have become promising nurses, physicians, educators and researchers, but because at AKU you have also become educated men and women with expanded powers of reason and reflection," he remarked.
He went on to explain that the earthquake had been a brutal reminder to the University of the reason for its existence. Whereas global communications were able to capture the world's attention and generosity for only a limited time, governments did their best to carry most of the burden of the basic recovery. It was therefore left up to the specialised, non-governmental organisations such as the AKU, that have the knowledge, professional manpower and experience to respond to the great array of ills that follow social trauma.
The work of AKU, continued the Aga Khan, had been made possible by response teams notably in the realm of public health, established to create model health programmes and health surveillance systems on the ground that have for many years been studied and tested. In addition, training programmes developed by the Aga Khan Health Service and by AKU's Department of Community Health Science have proved important in the response.
Secondly, he noted, the impact of AKU's response was compounded because the University is part of AKDN. The Aga Khan Health Service had for several decades been studying and working with mountain people and villages; the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service was able to share its methodology for constructing temporary shelter and seismic-resistant construction; and the Aga Khan Foundation helicopters provided the transportation of materials and evacuation of serious casualties.
The Aga Khan also made a significant announcement regarding the transition of leadership at AKU and announced the retirement of the first president of the University, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha. The Chancellor expressed his warmest gratitude to Mr Kassim-Lakha, noting that the substance and quality of the University today, owed a great deal to his determination, energies and loyalty. "All this has been possible," the Chancellor noted, "because of what was accomplished during the tenure of Shamsh Kassim-Lakha. He leaves behind him a dynamic institution He and his wife Khadijah have given their hearts to AKU."
The Aga Khan also introduced AKU's next President Firoz Rasul, one of Canada's most successful entrepreneurs. Mr. Rasul has served as a member of the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia and has overseen the development of various projects in Canada.
In his closing remarks the Chancellor addressed the students by saying, "As you now prepare to leave your university years, I congratulate you and I wish for you deep satisfaction that can come from using all your powers in service to the progress of mankind. You are eagerly awaited by us and by a world of grave and sudden needs," ended the Aga Khan.
In his speech, AKU President Shamsh Kassim-Lakha lauded the commendable achievement of the graduates and noted that the University's primary purpose is to develop the leaders of tomorrow, not only in Pakistan, but in many other countries of the Ummah and the developing world. In keeping with this aim, the University has already grown to encompass ten teaching sites in seven countries of South Asia, Eastern Africa and Europe. Elaborating on the internationalisation of the University, Mr. Kassim-Lakha informed the audience that the University now operates its second teaching hospital in Nairobi and that planning had begun for the establishment of a new regional Institute for Educational Development in Tanzania.
Reflecting upon the transition of leadership at AKU, President Kassim-Lakha reflected that, "To have been asked to lead the team that translated into reality His Highness's vision of AKU as a centre of excellence has been a unique privilege for me. It is deeply gratifying that Pakistan's first private university is now known internationally and is establishing campuses and programmes in countries that also seek excellence in nursing, medicine and teaching. The guidance of the Chancellor, wisdom of an international Board, and the energy of an outstanding and dedicated faculty and staff have been an unfailing inspiration."
Following the speeches, Aga Khan University's Distinguished University Awards were conferred in recognition of outstanding persons whose achievements have had a significant impact on society and on the University. This year, the University presented the title of Professor Emeritus to Dr Paula Herberg, Former Associate Dean of AKU-School of Nursing, for her contribution to the nursing profession in Pakistan and other developing countries, particularly in community health nursing, research and administration. Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta received the first University Research award to be conferred at AKU. This award recognises Dr Bhutta's outstanding research and his remarkable role to the development of a research culture at AKU. Dr Bhutta's pioneering work in nutrition and vaccination has made a major contribution to the understanding of effective ways of improving survival rates among infants and children.
The University has so far graduated 3,684 doctors, school teachers, and nurses from Pakistan and overseas. Through its needs-blind policy and Educational Support Programme, AKU ensures that deserving students are granted admissions irrespective of their economic background. Forty-five per cent of AKU's students receive some form of additional financial assistance through scholarships and loans. Since its inception, the University has disbursed US $1.126 million in financial assistance to students.
This year's graduates included 19 international students from Belgium, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bangladesh, Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and USA. Dr Sameen Ahmed of MBBS Class of 2005 received the highest number of awards and the title of 'Best Graduate of the Year', while Ms Gulzar Azizuddin Noorani from the School of Nursing received the 'Outstanding Graduate Award'. S. Rubina Zaidi, a graduate of MEd programme of AKU-Institute for Educational Development, gave the valedictory speech.