AMOS OLAL-ODUR is the academic registrar of Cavendish University. He previously served in the same position at Makerere University and at the International University of East Africa.
Justus Lyattuu caught up with him and they talked about his career and quality of university graduates, among other issues.
It has been roughly eight years since you left Makerere University: what have you been up to?
You are right; I left Makerere University about eight years ago. I left after serving for 20 years, from June 1989 to December 2009.
I was initially appointed assistant registrar, rose through the ranks to senior assistant registrar, then deputy registrar and in 2004, I became a full academic registrar. My immediate supervisor and mentor was Mr Gershom Eyoku (RIP) who was the senior deputy registrar.
The academic registrar then, Mr Bernard Onyango, was my other mentor. I was placed in the Senate division. I served in that office as a minute secretary and this enabled me to attend all meetings of senate as well as University Council meetings. This provided me with a lot of opportunity to learn about academic governance and university operations.
Since leaving Makerere, I joined a research organization at the college of Health Sciences at Makerere as a programme coordinator, in a project called THRIVE.
In my second year at the project, I got another job as academic registrar at International University of East Africa (IUEA) where I worked for four years and nine months.
I felt I had served long enough at IUEA and, in May 2016, I joined Cavendish University Uganda (CUU) as academic registrar and I have been at CUU for one year and four months.
Do you feel that your career is indelibly attached to your work at Makerere?
I am no longer attached to Makerere, but the wealth of experience I got from there has greatly helped me in my new assignments.
I am, therefore, indebted to Makerere for the experience I gained which has contributed immensely to my legacy.
You have been an academic registrar in three universities: what is the secret behind this achievement?
The secret behind this is the legacy and the reputation I have built for myself. The secret behind this is also hard work, discipline, honesty and integrity.
When you are handling students’ admissions, transcripts and complaints, integrity and honesty are supreme. When people come to see you, they are judging you for the future; people are always seeing you, making judgments and selling you.
Integrity is doing what is good even when no one is seeing you. I can’t sit in my office and change students' marks. Also, knowledge of how universities operate and being approachable and helpful to people, has assisted me to get where I am.
What do you think is the real issue behind the numerous public complaints that universities continue to produce unemployable and half-baked graduates?
The hard fact is that universities are very expensive entities. Lack of resources is at the base of all the problems at institutions, right from elementary schooling up to university. The resources include financial and human.
With inadequate resources, universities fail to provide excellent-quality education and training, thereby affecting the type of products entering the world of work.
We need to be aware of this fact that be it at nursery, primary, secondary, or university stage, education is expensive.
Countries like China, India, Japan and USA noticed this a long time ago; so, governments and other sponsors of education in those countries and even parents know university education is very expensive and, hence, invest heavily in it.
In India, special institutes such as the institutes of medical sciences, the institutes of technology and the Indian Institute of Science receive lavish funding from the government on a continuous basis.
This collection of institutes produces crop upon crop of highly skilled graduates who are on high demand at home and abroad.
No wonder when we are sick and we are lucky enough to be funded for treatment outside, we travel to India for quality medical treatment.
How I wish we could transform some of our universities into centres of world-class academic research!
Funding the full budget of some of our universities and allowing them to use the internally generated funds over and above the budgeted would enable them to attract and retain high-calibre motivated academics and researchers, have well-equipped laboratories and libraries, among other things.
We need to re-prioritize by giving resources to higher education and appreciate that education must be funded sufficiently.
From your experience, where is the problem in establishing competence among students?
Competence is the ability to do something very well. If our students are to have competence, we need not only qualified university teachers, but also experienced ones. There is need to adequately equip our labs and libraries.
Students need to be encouraged to have an insatiable love for knowledge and gaining skills rather than just getting papers.
Learning needs to be student-centered where students need to do most of the academic work as lecturers guide them.
We need students to be doing more practical work on a regular basis. We also need to have students spend longer periods of time on internships/practicums/fieldwork.
When students engage in real-work situations longer, with determined guidance by university and on-site supervisors, the complaints about the quality of the products of our universities are likely to reduce. Again, all these can only be possible with substantial funding.
There is also need to ensure that lecture room work is balanced with practical work. There should be deliberate efforts to do this for all academic programs so that we do not have students with very good grades on their academic transcripts but cannot demonstrate mastery of the required skills and attitudes.
Who is Olal-Odur?
Amos Olal-Odur was born in 1952 in Lango sub-region. My father, Mzee Hannington Odur (RIP), was a primary school teacher. My mother was Manjeri Odur (RIP). I owe a lot to them for what I am today.
I studied at Apala primary school, Aloi high school and Kabalega secondary school for O and A-level respectively. In 1975, I joined Makerere University for the Bachelor of Arts with the concurrent Diploma in Education, which I completed in 1978.
The concurrent diploma was purposely introduced to train as many teachers as possible to fill in the gaps left by the expatriates then.
After graduation, I taught at Kakira secondary school for three and half years (1978 to 1981) and then moved to Comboni College in Lira in 1982 where I also served as the deputy head teacher until 1987.
Then I returned to Makerere University for the Master of Education degree which I successfully completed in 1990. I am married. My wife has been a lecturer at the department of Distance Education at Makerere University and we have five children: two boys and three girls.