Speech by Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, at an event marking UCA-Cambridge Trust Partnership

Date: 26 February 2020

Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, UCA

Aga Khan Centre, London
26 February 2020

Speech by Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, at the Aga Khan Centre in London on February 26th, marking the signing of an agreement between UCA and the Cambridge Trust.
Princess Zahra Aga Khan;
Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope; Excellencies;
Distinguished guests.

On behalf of His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor of the University of Central Asia and the Board of Trustees, I warmly welcome you to this beautiful Aga Khan Centre.
As many of you know, UCA was founded in 2000 as a regional, not for profit, secular university through an International Treaty signed by the Presidents of the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, and His Highness the Aga Khan. The Treaty, ratified by the respective parliaments is registered with the United Nations.
UCA is a development-oriented University, focused on the education of mountain societies, which are often marginalized due to lack of opportunities and resources. Such populations are always at risk of becoming disenchanted, and prone to radical influences.
It is the University’s aspiration that educated men and women in these societies, will become beacons of hope: as job creators and not job seekers. 
UCA is the second University in the Aga Khan Development Network; the first being the Aga Khan University chartered in 1983.
However, tertiary education in Ismaili history goes back more than 1,000 years with the establishment of Al-Azhar University in Cairo by the ancestors of His Highness the Aga Khan, during the Fatimid Dynasty.
While UCA has ambitions for excellence in teaching, research and civic engagement, the Founders see its future as a research university, if it is to impact positively on the quality of life of mountain populations.
We work in middle to low income countries, with significant social and economic issues with no easy answers. For example, how do you improve the quality of school education when the most the government can spend annually is $380 per child.
So then, what are the least cost and most effective solutions to this and many other issues such as poverty and the challenge of climate change?
Unfortunately, many developing countries have tended to out-source policy thinking to multi- lateral institutions and aid agencies. This is where universities like ours can help. But we need the intellectual assets of strong academic partners such as Cambridge and other universities in North America, Russia, Australia and Central Asia which are already partnering with UCA, to think through issues and build endogenous capacity.
My colleagues and I are delighted that yesterday, in the presence of UCA Trustee Princess Zahra, Vice Chancellor Toope and I signed an MOU to enhance research and scholarship at our respective institutions. We are pleased that the scope of this document extends to all AKDN agencies. UCA’s relationship with Cambridge however goes back to 2009, when it awarded an honorary degree to His Highness.
Generous support of the Cambridge Trust over the past years has also facilitated the development of several UCA faculty members and today we are renewing this arrangement.
We have also identified several research themes of common interest where the geographic settings of the mountain regions of Central Asia provide unique and exciting opportunities for collaboration.
Our collaboration with Cambridge and other institutions is inspired by His Highness’ remarks at the inauguration of our Naryn campus in 2016 where he noted, “What this University is all about is not only the power of education, but also the power of international cooperation. It is a power that can change peoples’ lives. It is important to know that what we are doing here will be a valuable example of international cooperation for the future not only here in the region, but also for people far beyond the region.”
It is in this context that we invited Vice Chancellor Toope to share his valuable insights on: Internationalization of Higher Education and its role in Development.
Professor Toope joined Cambridge as its first non-native Vice Chancellor after a distinguished career as a scholar and academic leader. He was Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs (2015-2017), where he and I are Distinguished Senior Fellows. Before that he was President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia, having earlier served as Dean of Law at McGill University. I should alert colleagues at the Institute for the Studies of Muslim Civilizations and the Institute of Ismaili Studies that Prof Toope has been a scholar of religious laws, including the Sharia!
He was Chair of the Board of Universities Canada, and a past Director of the Royal Conservatory of Music – from which he received an Honorary Fellowship.
Among his many distinctions are, various honorary degrees and induction as an Officer of the Order of Canada – one of Canada’s highest honors.
It is now my great pleasure to invite Vice Chancellor Toope to the podium.
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