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  • President Nazarbayev and His Highness the Aga Khan congratulate each other and exchange signed copies of the International Treaty.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
World's first mountain university founded along the Silk Route

Astana, Kazakhstan, 31 August 2000 -- President Nursultan Nazarbayev and His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims, today concluded the signature of the treaty founding the University of Central Asia, the world's first university dedicated exclusively to education and research on mountain regions and societies. Announcing a total endowment of US$15million for the University at its inception, the Aga Khan stated that US$5million of this sum would be allocated for the University's programmes in Kazakhstan.

The signing in Astana follows similar ceremonies in Dushanbe and Bishkek earlier this week at which the Aga Khan signed the Treaty with President Emomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan and President Askar Akaev of the Kyrgyz Republic respectively.

Twenty five million people, many of who seek their livelihoods along the Silk Route, on the earth's highest mountain ranges stretching from Western China to the Southern Caucasus, will benefit from the new university.

To be situated in countries where the Altai, Tien-Shan, Pamir, Karakorum, and Hindu Kush mountain ranges converge, the University is intended to serve people in the mountainous parts of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and countries in South Asia.

The establishment of the university was recommended by an international commission of mountain experts, academicians and regional specialists appointed in 1995 shortly after President Rahmonov and the Aga Khan signed an Agreement to facilitate the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in the region.

"Mountain populations experience extremes of poverty and isolation as well as constraints on opportunities and choice," said the Aga Khan in announcing the launch, "but at the same time, they sustain great linguistic, cultural, ethnic and religious pluralism, and show remarkable resilience in the face of extraordinarily harsh circumstances." "By creating intellectual space and resources," he continued, "this University will help turn the mountains that divide the nations and territories of Central Asia into the links that unite its peoples and economies in a shared endeavour to improve their future well-being."

The regional university will be distinctive in a number of ways. Its charter, academic standards, curricula, faculty and students, academic partnerships and linkages will be international. It will emphasise distance learning, the use of information and computer technologies and create satellite facilities and programmes across the region. Students, faculty and staff will be recruited on merit.

The first programmes will be in Continuing Education to upgrade professional skills in the catchment area. English will be the primary medium of instruction in the post-graduate and graduate programmes. The University will not include a faculty of theology. The post-graduate programme will foster research on issues critical to sustainable development (e.g. geology of mountains and mining, hydrology, seismology, mountain ecology, natural resource management, high-altitude agriculture and development economics). An interdisciplinary residential undergraduate programme will cover a wide range of subjects (e.g. forestry, environmental engineering, disaster management, agronomy, civil engineering, mining, energy, computer sciences, economics, business, accounting, sociology, regional languages, anthropology, history, philosophy and ethics).

The University will draw on the expertise and experience of the AKDN which has a hundred year-old tradition in operating educational facilities. The Aga Khan University, already created under an international charter in Pakistan in 1984, and its academic programmes in East Africa and Europe, will contribute in a number of ways to the new University. Over the past quarter-century, the AKDN has initiated educational programmes and institutions in the developing and developed worlds in collaboration with Harvard University, the Karolinska Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McGill University, McMaster University, the University of Oxford and the University of Toronto, amongst others. 

The AKDN is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies and institutions that seek to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities. Established by the Ismaili Imamat (office of spiritual leadership) and working in over 20 countries, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion.

The AKDN has nearly 25 years of experience in rural development in Asia and since 1993, has launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia in areas ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation.

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