KARACHI: In the early 2000s, students would often wonder when the much-rumoured humanities school by the Aga Khan University (AKU) would materialise.
They can dream on for a bit. Even though the AKU’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is slated to open at the ambitious Education City project in Karachi, it is still several years away from completion.
The AKU’s new school is one of several high-profile campuses planned for the 9,000-acre Education City. Other schools that have signed on to build campuses at the site include the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology and the Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology.
Rumours that AKU had backed out of the project have surfaced, but the project director for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Karim Nurmohamed, and Zubair Motiwala, who serves as an adviser to the Sindh chief minister, have denied this. “His Excellency the Aga Khan has assured that it will go ahead,” Motiwala told The Express Tribune. “The AKU is at a very advanced stage, in terms of its model and master plan.”
It appears that it is simply a case of all the pieces taking time to come together to fit. Initially, the universities had two years to build up their campuses at Education City. But in 2010, the government realised it wasn’t a workable deadline. “We have changed this (deadline) according to the size of the universities,” said Motiwala. “AKU suggested this (given the size of their project) and we have acceded to their suggestions.”
In order to gauge the magnitude of the task consider the numbers. The first phase of AKU’s new campus will cost $500 million and will include an academic building spread over 200 acres. The entire campus will take up about 1,200 acres, with 560 of them for the academic campus and about the same space for the university residential village. While AKU will be approaching funding agencies and will raise funds in Pakistan and abroad, it has already elicited interest and donations.
While Motiwala suggested that AKU would take about six years, Nurmohamed said there was no set timeline because they plan to start work on infrastructure and development as soon as the master plan is approved and they have a board in place.
As the universities work on their blueprints, a crucial part of the picture is the government’s input, which will come in the form of its master plan for Education City. Nurmohamed told The Express Tribune that AKU and other campuses are waiting on the government to complete its master plan for Education City, and they have given the government feedback on its preliminary plan.
“We wanted to make sure it would be a fit with what we’ve planned,” he said, stressing the importance of the campus for AKU. “We are basically a university that offers professional education to doctors, nurses and teachers and we want to move forward to being a complete university.”
Nurmohamed says there has been “very good recent progress” and he feels that the current political administration has been very helpful.
AKU’s new project envisages schools for architecture and human settlement, education, law and management, according to a document available on the Sindh Board of Investment’s website. Nurmohamed said that while they have a basic academic framework, it is dependent on the recruitment of senior faculty to help set up the actual curriculum and programmes, and that they will recruit once there is progress on the master plan.
It also aims to draw students who may have not considered a liberal arts education owing to a lack of universities offering a good programme. “The Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Forman Christian College in Lahore offer some courses in humanities, but they are still on a limited scale. We’ll be offering much more.”
The AKU is also opening a faculty of arts and sciences in Tanzania, and imagines that the two campuses will have similar faculties. Additionally, AKU says it is planning for a greener campus, which will position the sports facilities closer to the classrooms. Its design for the Karachi project has already received two awards – for land use and design.
An act governing Education City is also supposed to be presented in the Sindh Assembly. Motiwala, who also chairs the Sindh Board of Investment, aims that in five years, the board for Education City will include new entrepreneurs and that the chancellors or owners of the educational institutions will be eligible to become board members. He isn’t worried about instability in the city or political developments, since he believes mega projects like the Education City are long-term. “There are 9,000 acres of land and only 20% has been allocated,” he said by way of explaining not only how large the project is but also that it will take time to execute in its entirety.
While projects like this tend to be ignored when governments change, Motiwala says he has elicited all the help needed from the government and the draft legislation is ready. Once it is passed, it will be all systems go for Education City.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2012.