With global finance on its knees, this summer’s business graduates face an even trickier jobs market than most. But there is one area of banking still experiencing boom time – Islamic finance – and universities and institutions have been quick to grasp its possibilities. This academic year will see new courses in Islamic finance springing up throughout the world, reflecting the fact that it has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global banking industry, expanding by between 15% and 20% a year. By 2011 the assets held by institutions adhering to Islamic finance principles will amount to nearly 1 trillion dollars. In the UK, interest in the sector also reflects the government’s commitment to promoting Britain as an Islamic finance centre. The UK already leads Europe in the number of Islamic finance training courses it offers, from entry to postgraduate level.
Universities have responded enthusiastically. Newcastle University is offering an MSc in finance and law with Islamic finance from next academic year. Henley Business School at the University of Reading has been offering an MSc in investment banking and Islamic finance since last year, with students spending the second part of the year in Kuala Lumpur. The University of Bangor in Wales has also been running its Islamic finance MA and MSc for a year and is considering introducing a new MBA in the subject, while the first students to take an Islamic finance option as part of an executive MBA offered in Dubai by Cass Business School will graduate this summer. Durham, which has been offering postgraduate research degrees in Islamic finance for some time, is now introducing a taught MA and MSc (the MSc is more quantitative), to respond to demand. Elsewhere in Europe, Reims Management School is offering a new specialist course in Islamic banking and finance for students on its masters in management programme, taught in English.
Joanna Gray, professor of financial regulation at Newcastle Law School, says she is keen that their new degree course is not just seen as something for Muslims. “It’s for anyone interested in a fast-developing industry that in the UK has been quite busy in the past few years to accommodate forms of investment in finance that are shariah-compliant.”
Demand for the Courses in Islamic Finance has come not just from recent graduates and bankers wanting to improve their career prospects, but also from shariah scholars, who play a key role in Islamic finance. On the whole, most of the new Islamic finance courses steer well clear of religious issues in favor of legal and financial questions because these are what most interest students. Khalid El Sheik applied for Bangor’s Islamic finance MA because, having taken a first degree in computer science in Sudan before switching to a career in marketing, he felt his CV needed a business boost. He saw it as a chance to mark himself out from other students and to have a head start in an area that was likely to offer plenty of future employment opportunities. “I had read about Islamic banking and how it was going to increase in future, and how most of the banking sector is now looking to it,” he says. His fellow students at the university, including one from China, had the same idea, he says.
Szymanski agrees that it is the idea of the moment in many universities, and while they are still waiting to see how the market develops before introducing any similar courses, it is certainly considering the possibility. “You just have to measure how many billions of dollars Islamic finance already handles in a year,” he says. “If that grows over the years, it will become a universal part of every business school.”