(MENAFN - Arab News) The launch last week of Europe's first dedicated Islamic Finance and business Centre at a mainstream British university, Aston Business School, which is part of Aston University in Birmingham, underlines the growing Islamic finance education industry in and out of the UK.
The El Shaarani Islamic Finance and Business Centre, named after its benefactor El Shaarani, CEO of Surgi-Tech Group in Dubai, aims to establish Birmingham as the center for Islamic finance in the UK.
The global growth of Islamic finance and the UK banks' long involvement in the sector since the early 1980s, has encouraged professional bodies, academic institutions and some private entities to set up Islamic finance courses ranging from certificates, diplomas, undergraduate, masters and post-graduate degrees in Islamic finance and economics.
Professional bodies such as the Securities & Investment Institute (SII) launched its Islamic Finance Qualification (IFQ) a few years ago, which it now exports to GCC countries including Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
Following a successful first year of partnership, another professional organization, CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) in London and HSBC Amanah, the Islamic finance division of the HSBC Group, recently agreed to continue their global partnership to promote CIMA's certificate in Islamic finance, which was designed in cooperation with Amanie Shariah Solutions, the Malaysian Shariah advisory consultancy headed by prominent Shariah Scholar Daud Bakar, and which has offices in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.
"The expanded collaboration represents an exclusive partnership program to advance the promotion and development of the Islamic finance sector through high quality, relevant and practical training with a focus on practitioners attaining a professional qualification. The partnership will see more HSBC Amanah staff from around the world undertaking the certificate as HSBC Amanah's qualification of choice," explained Amjid Ali, senior manager, HSBC Amanah and UK head.
In the academic space, Durham University's Al-Qasimi Centre launched undergraduate, masters and doctorate courses in Islamic finance and economics under the leadership of Professor Rodney Wilson and aided by Mehmet Atusay. However, in the last two or three years Durham has discontinued some of its course offerings and is concentrating more on Ph.D programs in Islamic finance.
Similarly Loughborough University and the School of African & Oriental Studies (SOAS) at London University also offer some courses in Islamic economics and finance, and in Islamic commercial law. Surrey University also has a Ph.D program largely concentrating on accounting and auditing issues in Islamic finance.
A major breakthrough however came last year when the Kuala Lumpur-based International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF), a 500 million ringgit educational trust established by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) which has university status under Malaysian law, signed a strategic alliance with the renowned Investment Banking Centre at Reading University in the UK. "Our cooperation is not based on one size fits all", confirmed Agil Natt, CEO of INCEIF, "but depends on the university and country. The core basis is sharing of intellectual property, curriculum and content. It is no point each one reinventing the wheel. The important thing is that the curriculum can be adopted or adapted depending on the legal framework of each country or institution. The qualification can be theirs or ours or joint. In the case of Reading University, we are jointly offering a 1-year Masters (MSc) in investment banking and Islamic finance. Two terms are spent on the campus at Reading University and one term at INCEIF in Kuala Lumpur." This Masters course together with INCEIF's CIFP (Chartered Islamic Finance Professional) qualification, launched in 2006, is fast setting the benchmark in Islamic finance education.
Another important development is the MBA in Islamic finance offered by Cass Business School, part of City University in London, at its overseas campus based in and in cooperation with the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre). This is the first time that a major UK university is offering a MBA course at an overseas campus.
In addition, there has been a proliferation of courses — some online, some distance learning and some classroom-based — by lesser-known institutions, colleges, community centers and institutes. The major difference is that the major mainstream universities and professional bodies have internationally-recognized accreditation whereas the lesser-known institutions very often do not.
Given the above developments, the El Shaarani Islamic Finance and Business Centre at Aston Business School, has its work cut out simply because it is a latecomer to this field.
But armed with a GBP1.5 million grant from the Surgi-Tech Group, the El Shaarani Islamic Finance and Business Centre, aims to develop a suite of qualifications on Islamic finance, including undergraduate, postgraduate, Ph.D and executive programs. It will also continue with research into Islamic finance and Shariah-compliant business, developing Islamic finance solutions for business and providing an advisory service to the government and the commercial sector.
A suite of executive education programs in Islamic finance will be launched by the center in summer 2010, followed by a Masters qualification in October 2010.
According to El Shaarani, "the creation of this center will result in the development of new financial tools that will attract greater foreign investment to the West Midlands region.
We look forward to continuing a prosperous relationship with Aston University and are honored to sponsor a UK business school as prestigious as Aston and help to fund research that will explore the role of Islamic finance in the future global financial system."
Aston Business School is among 1 percent of business schools across the world with triple accreditation by the Association of MBAs (AMBA), The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS).
The El Shaarani center will be headed by Director Omneya Abdelsalam, who stressed that the center with the generous support of the El Shaarani family, has been established to meet the growing interest in Shariah-complaint finance across the world. "Through the center, we will educate the next generation of Islamic economists and business leaders — both nationally and internationally. Our research will allow us to investigate how mainstream financial institutions can learn from Islamic finance practices in their recovery from and avoidance of the next global economic crisis," he ambitiously added.
The El Shaarani center also plans to exploit Birmingham's large concentration of professional financial and legal services and culturally diverse business community to reposition the city as a center for Islamic finance.
By Mushtak Parker