Monday, January 13, 2014

HUMAYON: Islamic finance education in Malaysia

While there is no unique mix of qualifications, experience, training and skills, those who have the right and rigorous education nevertheless stand a better chance of succeeding in any career, including in Islamic banking and finance.

Malaysia has invested heavily in developing human resources for the Islamic financial services industry. Almost all the institutions of higher learning in the country offer at least some specialised modules if not full-fledged programmes in Islamic banking and finance.

A dedicated university — International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (commonly known as INCEIF) — was also set up in 2005, with an explicit objective “to produce world-class talent for the global Islamic finance industry.” In total, there are 50 course providers and 18 universities offering degrees in Islamic banking and finance.

This year’s Global Islamic Finance Awards, held at Dubai on Nov 26, picked up Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Bachelor of Islamic Finance and Banking (BIFB) as the Best Qualification in Islamic Finance, following the 2012’s winner of Certified Qualification in Islamic Finance (CQIF) offered by IBFIM.

There is no doubt that high quality education in Islamic banking and finance is a prerequisite for starting a successful career in this field. This was obviously not the case during the first phase of development of Islamic banking and finance, when any banker and finance practitioner who had interest and passion for Islamic banking and finance had opportunities to excel in the then newly emerging industry.

The situation has changed now, as Islamic financial institutions are required, particularly in Malaysia, to employ personnel with the right and relevant qualifications. However, it seems as if the gulf between academia and industry is playing a trick, as many of the graduates of universities (including INCEIF) get confused by their own professors who seem not to be fully convinced with the practice of Islamic banking and finance.

This is particularly true in the case of the departments of economics and finance (or business schools) offering programmes in Islamic banking and finance.

The story is different in the departments of law though, if some members of their staff happen to sit on Shariah advisory boards of Islamic banks and financial institutions. The Shariah and law professors happen to have greater and better understanding of the practice of Islamic banking and finance than the academic community at business schools and economics departments.

This may lead someone to conclude that for a successful career in Islamic banking and finance, strong Shariah and law background is helpful.

This view may be supported by the dominance of Shariah scholars and the central role of Shariah advisory in Islamic banking and finance.

A close scrutiny of the academic and professional qualifications of the top management of Islamic banks in Malaysia (eg CEOs) gives a completely different story, as most of them come from an economics or business and finance background. Almost all of them have a common denominator — a foreign degree. This might be seen as a prerequisite for success in Islamic banking and finance but then it cannot be a differentiating factor as most of the successful executives and businessmen in Malaysia are foreign qualified anyway.

Thus, strong education in economics and finance seems to be the most appropriate qualification to succeed in Islamic banking and finance. Ironically, a significant proportion of economists and finance professors involved in the teaching of Islamic banking and finance happen to be sceptics.

While a lot of scepticism of such professors is based on genuine concerns, many of them certainly lack an in-depth understanding of the practice of Islamic banking and finance on a transactional level. If the authorities really want to improve the quality of instruction in Islamic banking and finance, then it should invest in these academicians to expose them to the practice of Islamic banking and finance. Failing to do so will result in inefficient use of resources, which has already been evident from the discontent of the Islamic banking and finance industry with the academic institutions and other specialised institutions offering instruction in this field.

[Prof Humayon Dar is chairman of Edbiz Corp London and a visiting professor of Islamic Finance at Academy for Contemporary Islamic Studies, UiTM]