A landscape in the Naryn province, where the first of UCA's campuses was opened in 2016Makalu

The University of Central Asia (UCA) and the University of Cambridge have agreed to partner to promote academic cooperation, collaboration in areas of joint research, student exchange, and to share educational materials.

The signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding, which took place on February 25th in Cambridge’s Old Schools, was attended by Princess Zahra Aga Khan and senior representatives from the University, including Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope.

UCA was founded in 2000 as a private, not-for-profit, secular university under an International Treaty, which was signed by the Presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan, Princess Zahra's father who is also current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, meaning he is the spiritual authority to around 15 million Muslims.

The university, which has two campuses currently, in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - with another in Kazakhstan set to open in 2022 - is registered with the UN, and was supported under the sponsorship of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

“Influential universities must harness the power of strategic partnerships,” Toope said at the ceremony.

“The inspirational choice of mountain regions for the three campuses of the University of Central Asia, and the generous financial support given to students who could not otherwise afford a university education, mean that the University is contributing significantly to the intellectual and economic development of the relevant regions.” 

Toope continued, “let us never forget how our universities’ missions and our universities’ pools of talent allow us, perhaps more than any other type of institution on this planet, to create, curate, and communicate the knowledge that can help to improve the world.”


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UCA is focused on the social and economic development of Central Asia, particularly its mountain societies, and has sites in each of the endorsing Central Asian countries. The university’s multiple campuses are located in rural areas, with UCA hoping to be central to the economic and academic transformation of the region. 

The University provides an internationally recognised standard of higher education and hopes to facilitate the preservation of the cultural heritage of the region. 81% of undergraduate students are from Central Asian countries, 51% of students are women and 70% of students come from small towns and rural areas. 

Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of UCA’s Board of Trustees, and Diplomatic Representative of the AKDN in the Kyrgyz Republic, thanked Professor Toope for his warm remarks at the signing ceremony.

“It is important to recognise that the agreement we are signing today is built on the confidence emanating from the efforts of colleagues at both our institutions. These early steps have focused on the development of our Central Asian faculty, thanks to the generous and continued support of the Cambridge Trust and your Faculty of Education.”

The Cambridge Trust has supported UCA since 2017 by financing excellent students from UCA to gain a Masters or PhD at the University of Cambridge. The Trust and UCA have extended their partnership to develop faculty across Central Asia for three more years. 

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