UCA Rector: We invest in the future of Tajikistan.

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Q: Why was a university with world-class standards built in the mountainous areas of Central Asia? Typically, such universities are in capital cities.

A: The purpose of the university is to bring development to the mountain areas and to demonstrate that with knowledge and education one can transform communities and one can be on par with the world the same time.

Q: You spend $25,000 USD annually on one student, but the advertised price is $8,000 USD, and students pay less than that. How do you explain these differences? How do you fund the deficit and where do the funds come from?

A: Universities of the world are not businesses. They do not operate on a business model, at least good universities where the students are paying for education. The model is that the government and the people who have been successful in the world create the possibility for other students to study. So, we talked earlier about why a university in the mountains? The idea is that when you are talking about human talent, there is no difference whether you come from big cities or small towns. Talent can be found everywhere, and it is the responsibility of a university to harness that. The most important part of the university is the teacher and the student. We have built a fantastic surrounding for the student and for the teachers, to give them an atmosphere in which they can think and research. We are also aiming to bring the best and brightest faculty from around the world to the university. And all of this requires a lot of funds. As you have noticed we spend more than $25,000 per student per year. At this time most of the funds that are needed for the students are coming from the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The University’s basic principle is that if you are good enough to get into the university, your financial circumstances are not a barrier and we guarantee financial assistance. We are taking the best minds in the country and putting them in an environment in which they can do creative work. And the mountains provide peace and tranquility and provide an environment in which human creativity can really thrive. We also look at the lives of the people in the region and how to improve their quality of life. That is what the University of Central Asia is all about.

Q: Does your University accept student who can study free of charge?

A: Yes. When the students are seeking admission, we are only looking at whether they have the talent to be admitted to the University. We are not looking at their finances.

Q: How many students study free of charge?

A: The average fees a student pays is about $1500 per year for tuition as well as a dorm room and meals, including a laptop. There are some students who don’t pay anything at all. I don’t have the figures at this time, but would estimate around 20%.

Q: You have another campus that’s going to be built in Tekeli, Kazakhstan. When will it open?

A: The University of Central Asia was created as a result of an international agreement with the government of Tajikistan, which was the first government to sign, the government of Kyrgyzstan, the government of Kazakhstan, and The Ismaili Imamat. We are committed to create a campus for the School of Arts and Sciences in Tekeli. Our School of Professional and Continuing Education already operates there. At this time, there are two protocols that need the approval of the parliament of Kazakhstan as a result of the Treaty that was signed. As soon as these protocols are approved the design and construction will be initiated.

Q: Are you hopeful that these protocols will be signed? Are there sensitivities whether your University will be competing with the famous universities of Kazakhstan?

A: I am very hopeful that these protocols will be signed in the current year. As far as sensitivities are concerned, all countries realize that their most important asset are the youth. Any country would want good universities to provide their youth with an opportunity to do their best. When the university does well, it is not a commodity or something that can be taken away from the country. It is a part of the soil of that country. It will be there giving benefit to that country. So, I cannot see how a good university can be looked at by any country of the world other than as a true benefit.

Q: Do you accept students only from the Central Asian countries or from around the world? Is there any limitation or do you dedicate a certain percentage to Central Asian countries?

A: Yes, there are limits. We have set a rule that 85% of the students will come from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. For the remaining 15% we accept students from any part of the world, but we are focusing our attention on the mountain areas and marginalized regions of the world.

Q: I am aware of operation of your University. I was in Naryn campus last year to visit my friend, who works there. I hear that there are sensitivities about UCA in the region, particularly in Tajikistan. There are people who say that the mission of the university is far beyond education and research, that it has political aims as well. What is your response?

A: In the original Charter and Treaty of the University that was signed and approved it is clearly stated the University is apolitical, and it is non-religious. In any case, a university, by definition, operates in a completely open manner. As you have noted before, you yourself visited our campus. You could see the faculty, see the students, what we teach is available on the internet. There is nothing hidden and there is no hidden agenda. We focus on providing world-class education to the most talented students. Bringing world-class faculty so that they can teach and conduct research and play their role in the development of their respective countries.

Q: Yes, it is right, Dr. Naqvi. However, as the University is supported by the Aga Khan Development Network, there is a belief that it exists only for the Ismaili communities. Does it?

A: Absolutely not! As the Charter of the University states, it is non-religious and non-political. When we are selecting students, we use a system called double blind. It means the students will not know who are in the admissions committee that is selecting them and the committee selecting them do not know the name of the students they are selecting. All the students are given an ID number, and admissions are discussed by this number and not the student’s name.

Q: Anyway, as I visited both campuses, either it seemed to me or just accidentally most of the students I met were Ismailis. Are there statistics that show the number of Ismaili and non-Ismailis students?

A: There are certainly statistics. At the he Naryn campus for example, we have about 118 employees. Naryn, as you are aware, is not a place where the Ismaili community exists. All of these people come from Naryn. None of them are Ismailis. As for the students, there is a much higher number of students that are applying from Ismail communities because there is greater awareness of AKDN projects. As the University is becoming more well-known across these three different countries, we are seeing an increasing number of non Ismaili applicants. As previously mentioned, students are selected on merit and the admissions committee has no way of knowing who is an Ismaili and who is not.

Q: I know the qualities of your University. For someone like me, who studied in Tajikistan universities, the environment provided in your campuses is unbelievable. But it would be interesting to know whether the students you accept from Tajikistan meet your expectations?

A: Absolutely! We have great students. This is not me saying, but employers where our students intern during the summer. Every student in the university is required to go through internship programme over three summers, and they work is companies such as UNICEF, Tcell, Coco-Cola, and industries over here. So, what I am conveying about our students is what these employers are telling us, and some of them have already been offered jobs when they graduate.

Q: Is there any difference between the salary you pay for locally hired faculty member and those come from the USA or Europe?

A: We do not provide the salary level according to where the person is coming from. The salary level is determined by the market that these people belong to. So, if they are teaching in Australia and they are coming over here then their salary has to be compatible with that of Australia. Our long-term goal is that majority of the faculty should come from Central Asia. In order to achieve this, we have a Central Asian Faculty Development Program, where we scout the best talents in Central Asia and provide them an opportunity to do a PhD from some of the best universities of the world. This will take time, but over the long term most of our faculty will be from Central Asia.

Q: You have faced difficulty to get the license for starting operations in Tajikistan. Could you say what was the problem?

A: Well, I think it is important to look at the present and the future. I had the pleasure of meeting the Minister of Education and the First Deputy of the Minister of Education today. There was nothing but applause for the way that UCA is working and carrying out its programs. Whenever there is a new idea and new institutions there are different things that are not known, and it takes time to sort it out.

Q: It means nothing serious was there?

A: No, absolutely not. At this time, we are talking about collaborating with Tajik universities to bring international standards to them. We work very closely with Khorog State University and we are working with the Ministry of Industry, looking at aspects of technology. So, we are very much looking forward to working with the Government of Tajikistan to help achieve their development goals.

Q: As the Rector of UCA you are obviously aware that education in the region, particularly in Tajikistan, is moving forward at a slow pace. What do you think are the problems of our education system, particularly in our universities?

A: Let me talk about the positives first. As a country that does not have much funding available, it is remarkable that more than 95% of the people are educated. Funding is one of the biggest problems that is facing the education sector. In developed countries, they may be spending 100 times more than the amount available in Tajikistan per students. Regarding methodology of teaching, there needs to be greater emphasis on critical thinking and independent thinking. Another issue is the quality of teachers in science and mathematics. Then, the number of years of schooling that is available in Central Asian countries is 11 years, which is not according to the world standard, which is twelve years. An extra year makes a big difference. So, within the challenges and constraints Tajikistan has done quite well, and there are opportunities to become even better.

Q: I would like to know that how much tax does your University pay to Tajikistan’s budget?

A: We are a nonprofit university that is educating the future generation of this country. That was a part of the agreement which was signed. We are providing an education valued at more than $25,000 USD per year for an average of $1,500. That is $23,500 in subsidies invested by the University for every student that is studying there. This is a significant investment in the future of Tajikistan.

The interview was conducted by Irshod Sulaimoni.

The University of Central Asia (UCA) announced the appointment of its first Rector. Prof. Dr. S. Sohail H. Naqvi on August 2, 2018. Prior to joining UCA, Prof. Naqvi was Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) for five years. Prof. Naqvi was also the Executive Director of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of the Government of Pakistan for eight years.

Source: Asia Plus