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Program History


In 1985, concurrent with adoption of its divestment policy, the Board of Curators authorized a new educational initiative to aid South Africans disadvantaged by their government’s apartheid policies. Shortly thereafter, the University of Missouri South African Education Program Committee was established with three members from each of the four campuses. Early in its deliberations, the committee decided to limit the scope of the program to a single South African university. The UM committee consulted widely with U. S. experts in business, education, and government, and all signals pointed to the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

Under the apartheid regime, UWC was established as a university for so-called "colored" students. Not surprisingly, it was badly underfunded. Nonetheless, UWC was one of the intellectual centers of the anti-apartheid movement. The University of Missouri initiated communication with UWC in April 1986. Not long after, a UM team went to South Africa to explore the possibility of cooperation. In June 1986, a formal memorandum of academic cooperation was signed by UM President C. Peter Magrath and UWC Rector Jakes Gerwel. This agreement has the distinction of being the first ever developed between a non-white South African university and a U.S. university.

The UM/UWC partnership was created to advance mutual understanding between the institutions' faculties and to demonstrate the ability of the two institutions to cooperate in teaching, research, and service. Working together, both UM and UWC have achieved considerable success since 1986. Today, with its autonomous status, UWC is open to all South Africans and operates under a non-racial democratic philosophy. It is recognized as a progressive institution with a well-earned reputation as one of the intellectual centers of the opposition to apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu served as the chancellor of the university for many years.

The end of the apartheid government also witnessed a rise in UWC’s stature. Indeed, almost one-third of President Mandela’s initial cabinet were faculty members of UWC. Under the leadership of Rector Brian O’Connell, UWC has made remarkable progress. It is now the 7th ranked university in all of Africa and 5th in South Africa in terms of rated researchers. In a recent competition, it was awarded more research chairs than any other South African university.

UWC has achieved excellence in a number of research areas. In particular, UWC:

  • Is the only place in Africa undertaking comprehensive work on the hydrogen economy, researching the use of hydrogen instead of fossil fuels as an energy resource
  • Is the African leader in bioinformatics. The South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI) is one of a small group of comparable top-level centers worldwide, and hosts Africa’s only Cray supercomputer. SANBI conducts cutting-edge research in key diseases facing Africa.
  • Is a leader in biotechnology, with a special interest in the genetics of life forms that thrive in extreme conditions, and their implications for our understanding of microbial molecular ecology. UWC’s newly completed Life Sciences building is Africa’s finest.
  • Holds the UNESCO Chair in Geohydrology and plays a leading role in networks across Africa in water resource research and training.
  • Has the largest and most productive School of Mathematics and Science Education in Africa.
  • Is home to The International Centre for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS), a UWC-University of Missouri project exploring the interface between Indigenous Knowledge systems and empirical science.
  • Has three World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating centers for capacity development, teaching and research in dentistry, pharmacology and public health.
  • Has a Center for Humanities Research exploring humanities theory about social and cultural transformation in Southern Africa and the continent.

For more information about UWC and a description of its faculty departments, see:

Faculty Exchanges

In the early years of the UM/UWC partnership, the faculty exchanges played an important role in UWC’s development. Outstanding faculty members from both universities have participated in the program. Since 1986, there have been over 500 faculty exchanges between our two schools involving over 40 academic disciplines. Many exchanges have been for two weeks to one month, but the program also has supported longer projects. Faculty on both sides, and on all four of the UM campuses, have found the exchanges to be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

What do participants say about their exchange experience? The following comments were made by UWC participants:

I cannot assess it highly enough. It was a breakthrough to the international scene. We were, by government design, supposed to remain as parochial as possible. This first agreement (the formality and the intensity) has made a world of difference to our self esteem and strengthened our morale. This has resulted in much stimulation and growth and provided a new perspective to generate ongoing activity. The frequency and the intensity of the visits has had a catalytic effect. It has had a stimulating effect. The openness, frankness and supportiveness of the people with whom I have come in contact has been so pleasant. It has been characterized by an open willingness to share.

Another UWC participant made this statement:

As a researcher, I gained information and contacts otherwise unavailable. I obtained material that led to development of a course, as an honors course, a seminar on peace and justice. The overall exchange­ program gave esteem and progress to our staff and contributed to academic excellence. It built confi­dence for people who might never have had contact at the level of real contact with colleagues. The degree, quality and quantity of this program has been profitable.

Another UWC participant said:

The program should be continued because it provides UWC staff an opportunity to visit a university where official politics are secondary. It is good for UM staff on the other hand to come to UWC to see what a university is like that is in the throes of political change.

A UM faculty member wrote:

I believe one hallmark of a successful academic exchange to be the inability to discern which end receives the most benefit--the visitor or the visitee. In the instance of this visit our objective was to teach, but the learning on our part most assuredly matched, if not exceed­ed, that of the participants in the course we taught.

Another UM participant wrote:

The University of the Western Cape is a remarkable organiza­tion where many outstanding individuals are working hard to fulfill the mission of the institution and thereby to serve the students and the communities from which they come. I am struck by how much we have to learn from the admirable example of dedication and commitment that is lived out day-by-day by our colleagues there. We can learn much from this university about transformation and renewal.

Another UM visitor wrote:

South Africa is full of contradictions. It was both more hopeful and more horrifying than I had expected--and much more intriguing. I gained respect for the many talented people at UWC doing good work and making hard decisions in a complex environment.

In the early years of this partnership, faculty exchanges helped to reduce the academic and profession­al isolation experienced by the UWC faculty. Faculty exchanges have included the following academic areas:

Academic Development Human Ecology
Adult & Continuing Education Journalism
Alumni Affairs Labor
Biology Law
Botany Library Science
Business Math Education
Chemistry Nursing
Community Development Oral Tradition
Comparative Education Pharmacy
Computer-aided Instruction Physics
Conflict Resolution Political Science
Continuing Education Psychology
Curriculum & Instruction Public Administration
Dentistry Small Business Development
Earth Sciences Social Work
Economics Sociology
Education Statistics
English Supple­mental Instruction
Geology Women's Studies
Health Writing


UM faculty members who have participated in the program have been given a rare inside view of a South African university in transformation. Moreover, as a result of the early success of the UM/UWC exchange, that opportunity has been extended to other American universities as well.

The UM/UWC program attained national recognition when it was selected as one of five model projects in black South African education by the Institute for International Education in New York. It was the only faculty exchange program selected. In addition, the United States Information Agency recognized the UM/UWC relationship as a "model" international academic linkage.

One of the significant results of the UM/UWC program was the establishment of an International Relations Committee by the UWC Faculty Senate. This structural change may not appear dramatic, but it takes on a special meaning in the context of the international cultural and academic boycott which isolated South Africa from the world community during apartheid. The policy that established the UWC Senate Internation­al Relations Committee, which in turn, led to the adoption of a UWC senate policy on international academic exchanges, is a significant result of the University of Missouri initiative.

A 1987 report from UWC states:

Finally, (UWC) must highlight the very considerable positive role played by UM in the processes that are occurring. While many on campus were suspicious of the activities of UM, there is little doubt that UWC has benefited very greatly from the initiative of UM. Those who formulated the aim set out in the Memorandum of Academic Cooperation--"to help the University of the Western Cape become a more vital force in South Africa"--are entitled to feel gratified by the consequences of the processes set in motion by their vision and initiative.

A 1991 report from UWC states:

The role of the University of Missouri in the development of our competence and confidence in this area cannot be underes­timated. The UM link both forced us to come to terms with the challenge of international academic intercourse and was so conducted from the office (of the UM President) that UWC was encouraged to become a full and equal partner in the exchange. What is more, the UM link provided UWC with resources to explore the development of crucial areas of its academic activity, notably Academic Develop­ment, provided a large number of UWC academics with the opportunity to escape the encapsulation of South Africa by spending some time within the Missouri System, and brought many talented and committed academics to our campus to enrich our work.

Every year 8-10 faculty members travel either to one of the Missouri campuses or to Cape Town to participate in this faculty exchange. Although there have been numerous teaching collaborations over the years, increasingly most of the recent grants have been given to fund research collaborations. The grants run up to $10,000 and are awarded by the University of Missouri South African Education Program committee. A fuller description of the application process and reports of past grants can be found at our website at: The application must be submitted to the campus international director by July 15th and awards are generally made by September.

UM South African Partnerships Program

In 1996, the University of Missouri System initiated a new program intended to support projects by UM faculty members in cooperation with other South African institutions and organizations, including historically disadvantaged postsecondary education institutions, governmental agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Since 1997, grants under the UM South African Partnerships Program have funded collaborative work in South Africa by 42 faculty members from the UM System’s four campuses. Projects carried out under this program have included research on training teachers in writing, language and media literacy; the role of sports in the lives of political prisoners on Robben Island; women painters as guardians of Ndebele culture; statistics; structural health monitoring; community development; wildlife management and conservation; and science education.

Henry Mitchell Scholarship Program

In 1997, the University of Missouri System and the University of the Western Cape broadened their linkage by approving a memorandum of understanding for a student exchange program, now formally known as the Henry Mitchell Scholarship Program. Since the 1998-99 academic year, the UM System annually provides funding to support study at UWC by up to four UM students and study at UM campuses by up to four UWC students. Awards generally fund study for a semester or full academic year.

Student interest in this program is growing. Through academic year 2011, scholarship awards were made to 12 UWC students and 27 UM students. The scholarship program is named for the late Dr. Henry Mitchell, long-time chair of the University of Missouri’s South African Education Program Committee.

External funding

The UM/UWC partnership has received two two-year grants from the U. S. Information Agency's University Affiliations Program to support international faculty exchange. In 1987, the Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant to support UM faculty assistance to UWC faculty in developing funding proposals to be submitted to Kellogg. Subsequently, UWC received major grant support from Kellogg.

TELP Project

The University of Missouri System and the University of the Western Cape in 1999 were awarded a four-year, $454,613 grant from the USAID Tertiary Educational Linkages Project to collaborate on thirteen individual linkage projects. Under the direction of Joel Glassman, the grant supported faculty exchanges enabling UWC and UM faculty to work together on projects in the areas of health and wellness, environmental sciences, diversity studies, family studies, peace and conflict studies, education, dentistry, law, chemistry, culture and media studies, economics and water resources. Many faculty members from both institutions collaborated on these projects including 62 MU faculty visiting UWC and 78 UWC visitors coming to Missouri. Not only did this project promote faculty development and enrich the curriculum at both schools, it also led to the production of at least 15 joint papers, sponsored several student exchange programs and generated a number of new course offerings. Additionally, six training workshops were conducted and many graduate students benefited from participating in joint training.

ALO Grant

The USAID Cooperative Agreement with the American Council on Education (ACE) seeks to mobilize the resources of U.S. higher education in support of international development cooperation. In 2004, the University of Missouri, as the lead U.S. institution, received a $100,000 grant from the American Council on Education’s Association Liaison Office to work in partnership with the University of the Western Cape. The purpose of this grant was twofold: to build capacity in academic leadership and in nursing education at UWC. Working together, the project directors and faculty members from both universities devised the following goals:

GOAL OF PROJECT A: Developing an academic leadership program at UWC

Objective 1a: Establishment of an academic leadership program as an ongoing institutional effort to improve operating processes and systems and to support academic leadership development.

Objective 2a: An increase in the capacity and capability of faculty interested in academic administration, departmental chair and other leadership opportunities.

GOAL OF PROJECT B: Revising and restructuring UWC’s nursing curriculum to accommodate needs of 21st century nursing students in South Africa

Objective 1b: Development of an Academic Learning Program to assist underachieving students

Objective 2b: Development of appropriate teaching and learning materials for nursing education at UWC

Objective 3b: Revise UWC nursing course syllabi and program, plan outlines and develop reports on teaching methodologies and technologies based on analysis of UWC’s nursing program.

Since 2004, administrators and faculty from both universities have traveled back and forth between Missouri and South Africa to work on the goals outlined above. Although this grant will finish in the spring of 2006, the grant has already produced many positive developments within the UWC nursing school. Moreover, the relationships that have been established between UWC’s nursing faculty and their counterparts at UMKC, Columbia and UMSL as a result of working together on this grant, will continue to flourish beyond 2006. Additionally, an academic leadership program has been successfully launched at UWC. Our hope is that this leadership program will continue to thrive and may even serve as a model for other African universities.


In September, 2005, the University of Missouri in partnership with University of the Western Cape received a $4.4 million NCCAM grant to study African plants for medicinal properties.

Described as a hot spot of botanical diversity, there are more than 20,000 indigenous plant species in South Africa. Several thousand of them are used by traditional healers every day in that country for treating a range of problems from the common cold to serious diseases such as AIDS. How safe and effective these treatments are will be the focus of The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS), a collaborative research effort between the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. The center will be funded by a $4.4 million, 4-year grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health.

“The American and South African citizens have strong interests in complementary and alternative medicine practices, but little is known of their safety and effectiveness,” said Bill Folk, senior associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, principal investigator of the grant and co-director of TICIPS.

Folk and U.S. research teams from MU, University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), Missouri Botanical Garden, University of Texas and Georgetown University will partner with Quinton Johnson, director of the South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute and co-director of TICIPS at the University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town, University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZ-N) in South Africa, and South African traditional healers. Together, they will study the medicinal properties, safety and effectiveness of several African plants in use today by traditional healers. South Africa is home to more than 200,000 traditional healers who care for more than 27 million people.

“TICIPS is especially significant, since it presents the very first opportunity for medical doctors, scientists and traditional healers to internationally cooperate as equal partners in exploring indigenous African phytotherapies for AIDS, secondary infection and immune modulation,” Johnson said. “Furthermore, TICIPS creates a unique bridge between Western and African medicine systems, with the aim of bringing hope, health and healing to all.”

The Center’s first projects will examine two plants used widely in South Africa. One of those projects, led by Kathy Goggin of UMKC and Doug Wilson of UKZ-N, will investigate whether Sutherlandia, or Lessertia frutescens, is safe in HIV-infected patients and prevents wasting. A previous, small pilot study by TICIPS researchers studied the safety of Sutherlandia in healthy adults. This was the first study of its kind, according to Folk.

Other projects will focus on Artemisia afra, which is widely used to treat respiratory infections. There is suggestive evidence that A. Afra might be useful in treating tuberculosis, which will be explored by TICIPS researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch – Galveston and the University of Cape Town. Another project will examine the plant’s potential for preventing or treating cervical cancer. TICIPS researchers from Mizzou, Georgetown University, UKZ-N and the University of the Western Cape will collaborate on the project.

“A real strength of TICIPS comes from the contributions of colleagues outside of the life sciences. Communication is a strong component in order to let the public know what we find,” Folk said. “Working with the MU School of Journalism and colleagues at the University of the Western Cape will ensure that our findings about the safety of these plants are distributed among the public, and only in South Africa, but throughout the world. Also, we enjoy a very strong partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the world’s outstanding botanical centers. Nature has thousands of secrets that we have yet to discover. This is a big first step in uncovering some of those secrets and seeing how we can better understand these alternative medicines.”

Reviewed 2019-08-05