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UM System marks 30-year anniversary of visionary partnership with University of the Western Cape

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Kelly Wiemann

September 27, 2016

Milestone celebrations will include presentations on collaborative projects from all four UM System campuses

COLUMBIA, Mo. – This year marks the 30th anniversary of the partnership between the University of Missouri System and the University of the Western Cape (UWC), which was the first-ever academic cooperation agreement between a U.S. university and a non-white South African university. To commemorate the milestone, the UM System is hosting a weeklong schedule of activities with a visiting delegation from UWC, including the week’s keynote event, today’s symposium which features presentations from UM System and UWC faculty whose collaborative efforts have benefitted them, their students and our world.

“System-wide, our leadership, the Board of Curators, faculty, staff and students appreciate this program and we cannot convey enough the value it brings to our academic mission,” UM System Interim President Michael Middleton said. “By celebrating the past successes of this program, we are paving the way for future opportunities that are to still be discovered, which I know will certainly be celebrated in another 30 years. The foundation that this international partnership has built supports future growth and sustainability and we can all be proud of that.”

The historic partnership was created in 1986 when the University of Missouri Board of Curators, as part of the adoption of its South African Divestment Policy, formed and charged the South African Education Program Committee to partner with one South African university to aid those disadvantaged by apartheid. The partnership has endured for three decades, spanning the fall of apartheid to the building of a new South African democracy, advancing capacity in teaching, research and service between the UM System and UWC during that time.

“Very few partnerships last this long. It is only when a partnership is mutually beneficial that it is still worth pursuing 30 years hence,” University of the Western Cape Rector and Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Pretorius said. “As a personal beneficiary of the University of Missouri South African Education Program, I fully recognize and wish to acknowledge the indelible positive contribution that this partnership has made to the emergence of UWC as a research-led university." 

In the past three decades, numerous collaborations between the two universities have flourished into significant research outcomes with some resulting in external funding. Some examples include:

The largest external grant from the partnership, $4.4 million, from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM) to the University of Missouri-Columbia’s  School of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for Research Bill Folk to research the safety and effectiviness of using indigenous plant species in South Africa to treat a range of health problems from the common cold to serious diseases, such as AIDS. Folk served as principal investigator of the grant and co-director of The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS). He led the collaborative efforts between researchers from MU, UMKC and UWC, among others.
A three-year collaborative project between MU’s Professor of Physics and Astronomy Paul Miceli and UWC’s Professor of Condensed Matter Physics Christopher Arendse uses UWC’s infrastructure and expertise in silicon-alloyed nanostructures and electron microscopy and MU’s infrastructure and expertise in x-ray/neutron techniques for structural characterization of nanostructures and organic solar cells. The resources from both universities provide the optimal environment to address research questions resulting in several National Research Foundation (NRF)-funded projects.
University of Missouri-St. Louis’s Director of Behavioral Neuroscience Rob Paul received a South Africa partnership award to conduct a pilot study on the impact of a specific protein defect in a genetic form of HIV. As a result of the study, Dr. Paul’s team received a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) RO1 to continue their investigation.

In addition, this partnership provides opportunities for UM System students and faculty to travel to Cape Town, South Africa and work with students and faculty at UWC. More than 600 participants from the two universities have taken part in exchange visits. Some examples include:

University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Professor of Health Administration Arif Ahmed leads a study abroad course focused on global health and social issues at UWC. This course provides an interactive learning experience to any student interested in global health and development through field trips and in-class activities.
As part of his ongoing collaborations with UWC, Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Associate Professor in Mining and Nuclear Engineering Kwame Awuah-Offei has travelled to South Africa to continue work on a project that focused on mutual interests between S&T and UWC: sustainable extraction of rare earth elements from waste streams, or “green chemistry” research.

Twenty faculty members from UM System campuses and UWC presented on their research collaborations and study abroad experiences as part of anniversary celebration.

For more information about the program, visit https://www.umsystem.edu/president/southafrica.

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