University of Central Asia | Shamsh Kassim-Lakha: Education is Not Instant Coffee – Vecherniy Bishkek

Construction of the University of Central Asia’s (UCA) main campus, which opens next year in Naryn, is nearing completion. Thanks to the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan will host a world-class University. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, AKDN Diplomatic Representative and Executive Chairman of the Board Executive Committee, UCA spoke to Vecherniy Bishkek (VB) on how this initiative was undertaken.

Shamsh Kassim-Lakha - UCA

Below are 3 of 7 questions and answers from an interview conducted by Amalia Benliyan of  VB and adopted from UCA’s website.

Question (Q): How does AKDN choose where to initiate its work and to locate its offices? 

Answer (A): We launch our socio-economic development programmes only when we are invited by a country.  For example, we came to Kyrgyzstan at the invitation of the government. The Kyrgyz Government appreciated the outcomes of our efforts in Tajikistan. In the 1990s which was a difficult period for Tajikistan, there was a famine in the Gorno Badakhshan Oblast (GBAO). The AKDN delivered food and the only delivery route for humanitarian aid was through Kyrgyzstan territory. In 1995, together with His Highness the Aga Khan, we arrived in Bishkek to thank the Government for its assistance. It was at this time, that the authorities addressed His Highness with the request to help the newly independent country with economic, social and educational projects. His Highness responded that he would kindly support the request of a friendly nation.

Q: Why was Naryn chosen as a UCA Campus?

A: Naryn is mountainous region and economically depressed. Usually, inhabitants of such areas have less access to resources and are more socially vulnerable than their fellow citizens living on the plains. Therefore, in the mountainous regions there is a high level of poverty, largely marginalised populations, which is a favourable environment for radicalism to take root. Therefore, in all three countries, where UCA campuses are being built, we have selected such locations. The UCA campus in Tajikistan will open in Khorog; in Tekeli, Kazakhstan; and in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.

Q: What are AKDN’s plans AKDN in Kyrgyzstan after launching the University of Central Asia in Naryn?

A: The opening of UCA is just one of the phases. The next phase is to assist with the improvement of the public school education system through UCA. Our university will offer a five year Bachelors education compared to four in most parts of the world.  This is because students are not adequately prepared.

The first year will provide students with the opportunity to improve their knowledge, to fill in the gaps of school programme. We need a phased approach to this, and here we are working closely with the Ministry of Education and Science.

As His Highness has said, [establishing a] university, and a system of education in general, is not like preparing instant coffee, which is ready immediately. For UCA, to become mature and prominent in the international arena, it will take at least 15 to 20 years. So we do have long- term plans to achieve this goal.

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