In 1991, as independence swept across Central Asian countries, the region advanced deliberately into a fast-changing world of free markets and democracy. Leadership from a new generation provided a fresh perspective on how economic resources, information and personal freedom could be nurtured in an open society. This wave of change spurred new ideas in the educational system. The forward-looking leadership of Camilla Sharshekeeva, then an English instructor at Kyrgyz State National University (KSNU), resulted in the establishment of the Kyrgyz- American School (KAS) within KSNU in 1993.
KAS experienced dramatic growth over the next four years and could no longer remain a school within KSNU. It was poised to become an independent institution. In 1997, KAS became the American University in Kyrgyzstan (AUK) by presidential decree. The foundation of the University was solemnized on November 12, 1997, when Hillary Clinton, who was then the First Lady, addressed the community and Dr. John Clark was appointed its first President.
In 1998, the government of Kyrgyzstan, the United States Department of State, and the Open Society Institute signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to provide support for the young University. Since that time, AUK has also received generous support from the Eurasia Foundation as well as from the local business community. By 1999, an independent, international Board of Trustees was established as the governing body.
AUK was soon admired internationally as a university based on the American liberal arts tradition of free and critical inquiry always with an eye on educating the next generation of leaders for Kyrgyzstan and, indeed, for the whole region. Since its opening in 1993, the University has enrolled students from about 30 countries, including all the Central Asian republics, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Eastern and Western Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. The faculty of AUCA is also multinational; since AUCA’s founding, professors have come from not only Kyrgyzstan and the United States, but also from Australia, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Romania, Russia and Turkey.
In 2002, because of the University’s expanded mission and future vision, the Board of Trustees changed the name to reflect the University’s regional significance: the American University of Central Asia.
More than 2,000 alumni now proudly call the University their alma mater. The success of AUCA is evident in its graduates, who continue their education at well-respected universities like Harvard, Yale, Indiana University, the Sorbonne and Central European University. AUCA graduates can also be found working at prestigious organizations across the globe, including the BBC, Citibank, Cisco Systems, Deloitte and Touche, Google, IBM, USAID, World Bank and many more.
American University of Central Asia is an international, multi-disciplinary learning community in the American liberal arts tradition. Its curriculum includes the Preparatory Program, eleven undergraduate majors and one graduate program. In addition to its top-flight academic programs, AUCA is committed to freedom of expression, critical inquiry and academic honesty. AUCA is the first university in Central Asia to offer US accredited degrees in liberal arts through a partnership with Bard College in the United States. In addition to Bard, AUCA maintains partnerships with a number of universities and organizations worldwide. Of particular importance is our partnership with American University in Afghanistan. We now offer classes taught jointly with AUAF faculty and attended by students both universities, using a virtual classroom funded by a grant from USAID. Beginning next year, we will initiate a student exchange and research collaboration with Koc University, the leading private institution of higher education in Turkey.
In a region noted for corruption in the field of higher education, AUCA is particularly proud of its reputation for honesty, both among individual students and faculty and at the institutional level. The university has in place all the necessary safeguards to steward large grants, as we have demonstrated both with completed grants from organizations such as the Open Society Institute, USAID, the Mellon Foundation as well as with current grants, including a $2.7M grant awarded by USAID in fall, 2010. AUCA is proud, through the work of its Social Research Center, to have partnered on sponsored research projects with (among others) the Open Society Institute, the Soros Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation, USAID, UNICEF, DFID, the U.S. Embassy-Kyrgyz Republic, Winrock International, and the Academy for Educational Development.
Financial oversight of the operations of AUCA begins with its international board of trustees. Board chair, William Newton-Smith, is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and serves on the boards of a number of important international organizations including the Economics Education and Research Consortium (Washington), Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research, (Kazakhstan), Asian University for Women (Bangladesh), Open Society Institute (Switzerland). Other board members include Djoomart Otorbaev, Chairman of the Economic Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Governor from the Kyrgyz Republic in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Emita Hill, Chancellor Emeritus, Indiana University, Kokomo, and Ishenbai Abdurazakov, former Secretary of State of the Republic of Kyrygzstan.
Overall day-to-day management of the university is in the hands of AUCA president Andrew Wachtel. Former dean of the graduate school at Northwestern University and director of the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies, Wachtel is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an elected member of the Council on Foreign Relations (New York). His management team includes Vice President for Academic Affairs Bermet Tursunkulova (MA, Central European University, PhD, Russian Academy of Science) and Vice President for Finance Talant Sultanov (MA, Columbia University). Day-to-day supervision of grants at AUCA is in the hands of Director of Development Sven Stafford (MPA, Syracuse University, Maxwell School) and the Director of University Grants Jamilya Karabaeva. The university’s accounts are professionally audited every year by Jacobs Audit.
Thanks in part to assistance received through an earlier grant from USAID, AUCA possesses a highly developed infrastructure for IT and electronic communication. Under the overall supervision of Sania Battalova (Director of Information Resources and Technology), our Polycom video-conference room is state of the art and uses the H.264 High Profile standard which allows us to conduct research video conferences with partners throughout the world. In addition, we are part of the CAREN network, which has established a high-capacity regional Research & Education network in Central Asia based on broadband Internet (with minimum link capacities of 34 Mbps) for public use of education and research institutions. With its direct connection to GÉANT, CAREN allows researchers, educators and students in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan not only to collaborate among each other but also to engage in joint projects with their peers in Europe and in other parts of the world. The CAREN project is coordinated by DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Technologies to Europe) and partnered by the national research and education networks (NRENs) in the five participating Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. AUCA, through its Public Relations office (Kemel Toktomushev, director) has the ability to communicate research findings to a broad range of stakeholders in both printed and web form, and in English, Russian or Kyrgyz , as the many policy reports we have issued indicate (see, for example, our research fellows working papers at http://src.auca.kg)
AUCA considers it central to our core mission to have a diverse and talented student body. In order to ensure that all students will feel comfortable at AUCA—we have cultivated a safe, co-educational environment that is inclusive, tolerant, respectful of all religions and nationalities, and sensitive to students’ varying academic needs. There are also structures in place at AUCA to provide assistance to students in finding housing, securing visas, and so on.
In 2010-11, more than fifth of our students are international, and the University is seeking to increase that number in the next few years. This focus on internationalization is rooted in AUCA’s mission to train leaders for the democratic transformation of the region and beyond.