Islamic finance education: Are you part of the problem or solution?

There might be a vast range of opinions about Donald Trump as the US president. For some, his election to the presidency was a black swan event. However, none of us can deny the fact that he is a successful entrepreneur and investor. And if you read his bestseller titled ‘Why We Want You To Be Rich: Two Men One Message’ and co-authored with Robert T Kiyosaki, an author of the number one personal finance book of all time, ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’, you can see that the lack of financial education was shown as the main reason why the US have gone from the richest country in the world to the biggest debtor nation in history. In this article, KAMOLA BAYRAM highlights some of the issues faced by Islamic finance education today and measures that can overcome these issues.

The expectation from the book for individuals who had attended workshops, conferences, forums and seminars was probably to get investment tips and advice. Yet, it’s a big surprise that the core message of the billionaire was “Go back to financial education!”

The message that we can solve most of our problems with financial education provides us with hope whereby we can be a part of the solution rather than being a part of the problem.

When it comes to Islamic finance education, today we see mushrooming institutions providing various programs such as university degree programs, specialized trainings, workshops, distance learning programs, webinars and other media. However, quantity does not always equal quality. And there is a need for an international body (or bodies) to ensure the quality of these programs and also the quality of the trainers or educators, by using the specially designed screening framework.

To address this problem, academicians from local and international universities as well as institutional members from relevant bodies involved in Islamic finance should collaborate to spearhead Islamic finance education by providing leadership in quality assurance and the enhancement of Islamic finance education worldwide, thereby making significant contributions to the intellectual domains of Islamic finance and other relevant fields of professional practice.

The level of competence and professionalism of educators in the field of Islamic finance should be increased and maintained through curriculum development; harmonization of module content; organization of conferences, seminars and workshops; provision of trainings and the compilation and maintenance of the database of courses and the talent pool.

What is the actual state of talents or educators and curriculum developments in Islamic finance in Malaysia today? The collaborative efforts of 24 academicians from various universities in Malaysia formed a country report known as the Malaysia Islamic Finance Education Report (MIFER) 2016. The report focuses on three fundamental areas of Islamic finance education as follows:

• Islamic finance education programs and the employability of students
• Curriculum development, and
• Talent development.

According to the report, to date in Malaysia, there are a total of 89 Islamic finance programs offered by all public universities and three selected private higher education institutions. The majority of the programs (75 programs) are offered by 11 public universities and 14 of the programs are offered by the three selected private higher education institutions. Based on the programs offered, the Islamic finance domain has the most number of programs (33) compared to other domains and accordingly, student enrollment and graduation in this domain record the highest numbers.

The report also sheds light on employers’ perception of Islamic finance graduates in Malaysia. The findings reveal that on average, employers are satisfied with Islamic finance graduates’ employability skills and competencies. Moreover, the respondents (employers) perceived that public universities produce higher quality Islamic finance graduates compared to local private universities.

Gap analysis was also conducted to assess the demand and supply of Islamic finance graduates. Overall, the results indicate that although Islamic finance graduates on average possess the skills and competencies the market requires, their skills and competencies are still below market expectations. Therefore, Islamic finance graduates need to improve in enterprise and entrepreneurial skills, thinking skills, managerial skills and proficiency in English and Arabic. More importantly, the report forecasts the shortage of Islamic finance professionals.

Currently, the total number of enrollments in Islamic finance programs from the 14 public universities and three private higher learning institutions is 21,825 students compared to the expected 54,000 students by 2020. Furthermore, according to Bank Negara Malaysia’s Financial Sector Blueprint 2011-20, the Malaysian Islamic financial industry would need 56,000-strong workforce by 2020 and 4,300 new jobs are expected to be created in Islamic banks in 2020.

In addition, there seems to be some imbalance in terms of programs offered by the universities. Nine out of the 14 universities focus mainly on Islamic finance programs, two offer Islamic economics, and two offer Shariah and law. Only one university offers Islamic management and none of them offer Islamic accounting as a program. Hence, universities need to offer more programs in order to increase the number of Islamic finance graduates in Islamic accounting, Islamic economics and Islamic management.

In summary, it is suggested that the Ministry of Education and the Malaysian Qualifications Agency need to facilitate the approval of new programs in Islamic accounting, Islamic economics and Islamic management. Universities that offer Islamic finance programs should also diversify their programs based on the five domains: Muamalat (Shariah & law), Islamic finance, Islamic economics, Islamic accounting and Islamic management.

The authorities concerned should design a policy that will ensure that students’ enrollments are balanced in all the five domains to achieve the government target of 54,000 Islamic finance students in 2020. It is also recommended that universities adopt a more proactive approach, where industry practitioners are also involved in teaching and learning at the universities and for the universities, more community-based assignments and marketing knowledge should be incorporated into their curriculums.

There should be more strategic collaborations between universities offering Islamic finance programs and the Islamic finance industry. This will further ensure universities are in fact producing graduates who fulfill market requirements and demand. Last but not the least, universities should also create their niche areas based on the five domains where they will be an authority and source of reference in that particular program, recognized nationally as well as at the international level.

Kamola Bayram is the project executive of training and research at the International Council of Islamic Finance Educators. She can be contacted at [email protected]