Two universities will launch master's degrees in Islamic finance tomorrow, hoping to fill a void in a market desperate for qualified professionals.
The Canadian University in Dubai and Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University have introduced the specialist master's of business administration (MBA), geared towards one of the fastest growing financial sectors, to meet demand at home and abroad.
Dr Muhammed Kabir, the vice president for academic affairs at the Canadian University of Dubai, hopes it will give the university an advantage over competitors when classes start tomorrow, in an emirate where 20 institutions offer 25 MBAs.
"We're trying to develop a competitive edge by doing market relevant degrees and we know that this is a job market relevant degree," Dr Kabir said. "Locally and globally, we're responding to market demands."
He said Islamic banking was a more "sympathetic" system where banks took more care to monitor how loans were spent and invested, thereby reducing the possibility of a debtor defaulting.
Dr Narimane Hadj-Hamou, the assistant chancellor at Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University where students study through virtual classrooms and online teaching, says financial institutions are taking up the Islamic model all over the world.
"It has been growing for the past two decades," Dr Narimane Hadj-Hamou said. "It's worth around US$1 trillion (Dh3.67tn) now and there are estimates that it is set to grow to $4tn by 2020."
There are no bachelor's degrees in the subject, with graduate and executive education courses focusing on those already in the industry.
Dr Hadj-Hamou said her university would be looking for candidates with "significant years of professional experience" for the research-driven course. The degree course costs Dh72,000, compared with Dh85,000 for the programme at the Canadian University in Dubai.
Afaq Khan, the chief executive of Standard Chartered's Islamic banking division, lectures at the Cass Business School at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), which has offered Islamic finance on its MBA since 2007.
Mr Khan said most people in the UAE had to be trained on the job, taking up time and manpower.
"It's a developing industry every day," he said. "It takes time to master and even I'm always learning."
Middlesex University's Dubai campus also offers a course in Islamic finance as an optional part of its MBA.
"Considering that the Islamic finance industry is now worth over $1tn globally, it is becoming an increasingly important area of study," said Dr Raed Awamleh, the director of the campus.
"We foresee an increased demand for Islamic finance courses and we will localise our MBA finance curriculum to reflect this trend, and its impact on the international financial markets, in the future."
Universities overseas, including Harvard Business School, University of California, Los Angeles and Trinity College in Dublin, are also introducing courses in the subject.
Dr Mohamed Belkhir, a specialist from UAE University, said the region's liquidity and oil revenues made it attractive for business.
"There has been a lot of talk since the crisis that Islamic finance is less risky than conventional finance," Dr Belkhir said.
"The share of Islamic finance in the market will increase significantly over coming years and we hear a lot of talk from executives and banks in the UAE saying they need many more people specialised in this area."