Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 140, Issue 77

Wednesday, September 24, 2003
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

Aga Khan University

Twentieth Anniversary of Founding

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to an institution that has revolutionized post- secondary education and health services training in the developing world. The Aga Khan University was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan and chartered in 1983.

I am pleased that the president of Aga Khan University, Mr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, is with us today in the visitors’ gallery.

At the time of its founding, His Highness the Aga Khan said the new university would draw inspiration from the great traditions of Islamic civilizations and learning, including one of the oldest universities, the Al Azhar in Cairo, founded over 1,000 years ago by His Highness’ Fatimid ancestors.

It was proposed that the Aga Khan University should be a small, secular institution, international in scope, and that its distinctiveness would come from the quality of its programs, its graduates and research, and its impact on developing societies. Today, 20 years since its founding, the Aga Khan University has moved well beyond Pakistan and has established campuses on three continents, with 11 teaching sites spread over Asia, Africa and the United Kingdom.

Canadian universities and professionals have played a critical role in this success. McMaster University, McGill University and the University of Toronto have all contributed tremendously to the development of Aga Khan University.

The early establishment of the School of Nursing had special significance — to train women professionals. In developing countries, women constitute more than 80 per cent of the nurses and teachers. Women’s development, through their empowerment, is a central goal of the Aga Khan Development Network, and in this respect, Aga Khan University is proud that 65 per cent of its students are women, as are more than 40 per cent of its faculty.

Nowhere is this feature more evident than at the School of Nursing, which opened in 1980 with the basic objective of enhancing the status of nursing and of women professionals. In Pakistan, nursing has not enjoyed high status, and the country has suffered chronic shortages, far in excess of those experienced even in most developing countries. In Canada, for example, there are about four nurses for every physician. In Pakistan, the ratio is reversed — about four physicians for every nurse.

Aga Khan University has succeeded in developing leaders in nursing, medicine, education and research who are equipped with modern techniques and tools but who also possess a strong sense of purpose and vision. It was in recognition of this leadership that the government of Pakistan turned to AKU to lead a national task force to assess what needs to be done to improve higher education in the country.

The motivation for His Highness to create AKU is clear in the following words:

There are those who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless they can be touched with the spark, which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink into apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.

Honourable senators, these words are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.