Linkage With South African University
Boosts UConn's Global Ties
he University's goal of becoming a global university received a boost last month with the announcement that UConn will receive a $460,000 grant from the United Negro College Fund for a linkage with Fort Hare University in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.
The three-year Tertiary Education Linkages Project grant, which starts July 1, will enable UConn faculty, staff and administrators from across the institution to form a mutually beneficial partnership with colleagues at the historically black university.
The United Negro College Fund also awarded grants to nine other American universities to link with other historically black South African universities, but Fort Hare is the oldest and most illustrious historically black institution in Southern Africa.
"This linkage is a concrete example of the University of Connecticut's commitment to international human rights, and an opportunity for us to make a practical contribution to the expansion of opportunities for those who were previously denied access to quality higher education," said Amii Omara-Otunnu, an associate professor of history and project manager for the grant.
"If UConn is to achieve its strategic goal of becoming a truly global university, it is essential for us to link with other institutions, especially one with such a significant legacy as Fort Hare."
Under the apartheid system in South Africa, different races were segregated by law and the majority black population was systematically denied educational and economic opportunities by the white minority government. Apartheid officially came to an end in 1994, when South Africa's first multiracial, democratically elected government came to power, with Nelson Mandela as president.
Since 1994, Fort Hare and South Africa's other traditionally black colleges - long deprived of resources - have faced new challenges, as the country's well endowed, historically white institutions have begun offering grants and scholarships to top black students, cutting deeply into enrollment at the former black colleges. The Tertiary Education Linkages Project is designed to strengthen the historically black colleges.
Fort Hare's strengths include an impressive roster of alumni, such as the late Oliver Tambo, a long-time anti-apartheid activist and twice president of the African National Congress; Mangosuthu Buthelezi, long-time head of the Inkatha party and now Minister of Internal Affairs; Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe; and Govan Mbeki, father of the current president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Former South African President Nelson Mandela also studied there. Many other alumni of the university are now serving in government and other key positions in South Africa.
Fort Hare, founded in 1916, also houses the archives of the African National Congress and other liberation movements. UConn last year entered into a partnership with the African Nationa l Congress to serve as the sole North American repository of ANC archival materials. It was the depth of commitment manifested in the UConn-ANC Partnership that gave UConn the competitive edge among other grant applicants, said Moeketsi Letseka, international linkages coordinator for Fort Hare, who spent a week at UConn in March to finalize the memorandum of agreement between the two institutions.
Academic links will be forged in the areas of comparative human rights, education and agriculture. Other priorities identified by Fort Hare include training for top management, and advice on improving fund raising, communications strategies, enrollment and retention of students, and college readiness for less academically gifted students, as well as faculty and student exchanges.
Since launching its strategic plan in 1995, UConn has made dramatic progress in all these areas. Fort Hare University recently adopted its own strategic plan and is unveiling it this week.
"Through a reciprocal process of consultation and learning, we hope to assist our colleagues at Fort Hare in successfully implementing their plan by working with them to develop strategies for enhancing academic and administrative skills, fund raising and other areas," said Omara-Otunnu, who is also executive director of the UConn-ANC Partnership and director of the comparative human rights project.
Letseka applauded UConn's emphasis that the linkage will be conducted on a reciprocal basis.
"UConn has an enduring connection through the ANC partnership, plus the sense of the University's commitment was so well articulated in the application," Letseka said. "It was clear that the University acknowledged that not only can it offer Fort Hare the help it needs but that UConn is willing to learn from Fort Hare."
UConn was selected for the linkage by a committee in South Africa comprising representatives of Fort Hare University and the United Negro College Fund.
"This grant represents a vote of confidence in the University of Connecticut by the people of South Africa," said Omara-Otunnu. "It shows that our approach to building partnerships is the right one."
Tim Weinland, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the Neag School of Education and associate director of the project, agrees that UConn has much to learn from faculty and staff at Fort Hare.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for individual faculty but, more importantly, for schools - like the Neag School of Education to develop long-term relationships with Fort Hare so all of us can learn," Weinland says. "We have much to learn about human rights education, and their faculty have great experience in that area."
That learning will begin this summer when two UConn students travel to South Africa to work with Nasila Rembe, the UNESCO-Oliver Tambo Chair in Human Rights at Fort Hare. The students will work with Rembe throughout the summer.
UConn is also considering the possibility of establishing a study abroad program at Fort Hare.
In July, a UConn delegation of top administrators will visit Fort Hare to gain a first-hand understanding of the university and begin to develop strategies to implement the linkage. It will be the first of a series of visits in both directions that will take place during the course of the grant.