COLUMBIA — Khaya Magopeni, a former student leader in South Africa, talked about the importance of student involvement at a presentation on Monday at MU.
Magopeni, who attended The University of the Western Cape in South Africa, said he has witnessed a decline in student leadership in higher education in his country and that student organizations played an important role in resisting the apartheid, which lasted from 1948 to 1994.
“The priorities are different now,” said Magopeni, who attended the university in the late 1990s. “But the focus is not to the extent that you wish there were.”
Now the executive assistant to the deputy vice chancellor at his alma mater, Magopeni also discussed the possibility of a student leader exchange program between his school and MU as an extension to the South African Education Program. The program is a 24-year partnership between MU and the University of the Western Cape.
Launched in 1986 as an initiative to offer educational assistance to South Africans that were disadvantaged by the apartheid, the partnership was the first of its kind established between a U.S. university and a historically black South African university, according to the program's website.
James Scott, director of the International Center, said since the South African university was located in a racially-mixed community, there was resistance to the program when it first started.
“It took a lot of personal will,” he said.
The program continued after the end of the apartheid in 1994, and exchanges between the two universities still happen every year.
Magopeni said he hopes to expand the exchanges to include one for student leaders.
“We’ve been talking about that recently,” he said. “It’s been mainly an academic project from its inception.”
Kristofferson Culmer, president of the MU Graduate Professional Council, said he would be participating in a preliminary meeting on Tuesday to discuss it with Magopeni.
If there were an exchange, Ben Hansen, director of the Missouri Student Association's Department of Student Activities, said he would like to visit and compare the universities' efficiency in student leadership.
“We have a large system here and sometime it gets bogged down,” he said.
Scott is not sure when there will be enough funding for the student leader exchange to be launched, but hopes it will happen soon.
“Our student leaders will be able to engage in bigger issues and look beyond the campus,” he said.
Magopeni, who returns to Africa on Wednesday after a month-long stay in the U.S., stressed the importance of student leaders as agents of change.
“They have the right and duty to ask what could and should be done to change society, and act on the answers,” he said.