Regular blog readers will know that I am passionate about higher education and about Central Asia. You may also know that I have been following the trajectory of some of the region’s newest institutions with great interest, in order to better understand the motivations behind the creation of these universities and to observe what these institutions mean for the people who are directly affected by them (through being students, faculty or staff there) or those with more indirect connections (local communities, employers, families of students etc). How do these universities change the societies around them? How do the societies around them change the institutions?
One project I have a particular attachment to is the University of Central Asia (UCA), which I first learned about in the early 2000s when I worked in Tajikistan for a path-breaking project that has now become linked to UCA. After an arduous journey – which is still only just beginning – UCA will admit its very first undergraduate students this autumn/fall and the buzz around it is steadily growing. The idea behind the university is to bring high quality higher education to three remote and mountainous regions in three countries of Central Asia: Tekeli in Kazakhstan, Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, and Khorog in Tajikistan. Whilst the mountains tell much of the story, there is also an undercurrent of social and economic justice: this is also about bringing three diverse but neighbouring states together and about creating opportunities for these regions and the states they are in to prosper in the 21st century.
In this post I would like to share a recent lecture by Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, UCA Board Executive Committee Executive Chair, given in London to share the university’s vision. The webcast of the lecture is below. If you enjoy that (or don’t have time to watch it in full), take a look at this 5 minute BBC news story and UCA’s photo reportage of the lecture.
We need to find opportunities, and that comes out of the intellectual application of minds, creating research and fostering socio-economic development of Central Asia’s mountain based societies, and helping societies preserve and draw upon their rich cultural heritage.
Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, May 2016
After over 15 years in the making, I’m delighted to learn that the University of Central Asia (UCA) is finally ready to admit it first degree-level students for undergraduate courses at the Naryn campus in the Kyrgyz Republic this September. UCA’s recent news release further hints that the Khorog campus in Tajikistan will be operational from fall/autumn 2017, with the final campus in Tekeli, Kazakhstan, currently scheduled to open in 2019.
The process of creating a brand new university is riddled with challenges, and UCA’s mission is further complicated by its multi-campus, multi-country nature and the enormity of building not just a campus but making significant investment in the surrounding infrastructure as well (you want a university in remote south-east Tajikistan? OK, go build some roads to get there from the nearby town, lay the electricity lines and make sure there is running water…).
Determining the ethos of the institution: what it will teach, what kind of graduates it wants to produce, how it will operationalise mobility between the campuses and so on, has been another major challenge. I was involved in the development of curriculum materials at UCA’s outset and from my two year stint working for what was then the Aga Khan Humanities Project (AKHP), I was able to get an insight into the abundant complexities that were involved. The curriculum being created was genuinely multi-disciplinary and examined viewpoints that went well beyond the tired Western hegemonic discourses so common in university courses around the world these days. The materials that emerged were genuinely transformational and I strongly hope that the first two years of the undergraduate courses – which are billed by UCA as ‘rigorous core curriculum modelled on North American liberal arts degree programmes’ – have not diverged greatly from the AKHP model.
Taking these physical and intellectual challenges into account, it therefore comes as little surprise that the undergraduate programmes are only now being launched. The students who join the first ever UCA cohort will be true pioneers of a different model of learning and seeing the world and I am truly excited and inspired to watch their journeys unfold.
UCA’s news story on the admissions round can be found at http://www.ucentralasia.org/news.asp?Nid=1042.