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UMSAEP History


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Working together, both the University of Missouri System and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) have achieved considerable success since 1986, the year the University of Missouri South African Education Program (UMSAEP) was established. From its humble beginnings, UWC is now ranked as one of the top ten universities on the African continent and UWC leaders have credited the UM/UWC partnership as contributing significantly to its rise. In particular, UWC:

  • 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 Life Sciences building is Africa’s finest.
  • Holds the UNESCO Chair in Geohydrology and plays a leading role in networks across Africa focused on water resource research and training.
  • Has the largest and most productive School of Mathematics and Science Education in Africa.
  • 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.
  • Established an International Relations Committee for 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 Faculty Senate Internation­al Relations Committee, in turn, led to the adoption of a UWC senate policy on international academic exchanges.

UM System 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 UMSAEP, that opportunity has been extended to other American universities. The UMSAEP 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" for international academic linkage.

Faculty Exchange Testimonials

In the early years of the UMSAEP, faculty exchanges played an important role in UWC’s development. Outstanding faculty members from both universities have participated in the UM/UWC Faculty Exchange Program. Since 1986, hundreds of faculty from the two institutions have participated, involving over 40 academic disciplines. Faculty on both sides, and on all four of the UM campuses, have found the exchanges to be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

UWC participants have said:

"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."

"As a researcher, I gained information and contacts otherwise unavailable. I obtained material that led to development of 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."

"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."

UM System participants have said:

"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."

"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."

"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."

Types of Faculty Exchanges

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:

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


Student Exchanges

Ivan Rugema Fellowship

In 2006, thanks to the generosity of Geoff Olesner and Robert Lande, the MU School of Law was able to create a fellowship to bring one UWC graduating law student, Lisa Draga, to Columbia to enroll in the LL.M. (master of laws) program in Dispute Resolution. She graduated with her LL.M. in May 2007 and went on to be the first UWC student selected as a clerk for the South African Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa. Since then, the law school received additional financial support from Fred White, a 1964 MU law alumnus, and 16 promising UWC students have received fellowships to study at the MU MU School of Law.

The UWC LLM graduates have gone on to do amazing things. In addition to Ms. Draga, another was selected to clerk for the Constitutional Court and one was the first UWC graduate hired by the most prestigious law firm in Johannesburg. Many of the UWC students come from impoverished backgrounds, so without this fellowship they never would have had the opportunity to study abroad. But it is not only the UWC students who benefit from being in the LLM program; the LLM program is enriched by the diversity and talent of the UWC students. The UWC students have continually been some of the strongest, hardest working students in the program.

Finally, one exceptional UWC LLM graduate, Ivan Rugema, grew up in the civil war in Rwanda. After his year in Columbia, Missouri, he returned to UWC as a very popular lecturer and began working on his Ph.D. Sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer, and died in 2013. The MU School of Law decided to honor Ivan by naming the fellowship after him. 

Reviewed 2019-08-05