“What we want to do is promote lifelong learning in subject areas that IIUM is prominent in,” Professoressor Dr Ahmad Faris Ismail, Deputy Rector of Research and Innovation at IIUM, says. “Our first SBU was the Graduate School of Management (GSM) then known as the Management Centre in 1993, under the Kulliyyah of Economics and Management Sciences, and now we have 11 units. They act as vehicles for us to espouse Professoressional values and ethics while enhancing skills and capabilities.”
The SBU’s main purpose is as a business arm within IIUM, in line with the government’s expectation that institutions of higher education will eventually become self-supporting partially through turning their own Professorits. Each of IIUM’s seven faculties has an attached SBU that offers executive programmes, separate from the programmes hosted by the faculties themselves.
“For the courses offered under the SBUs, we identify industry needs and develop programmes to fulfil these needs and equip our students with a contemporary education that they can apply immediately upon graduation,” says Professor Faris. The SBUs’ responsiveness to the industry climate helps to promote better relations between corporations and the university, which would directly benefit the students.
This relationship has led to several collaborations between IIUM and the industry, where IIUM provides the expertise for employers during short courses. They have had employees from Tabung Haji and Proton enrolled in their English and Arabic language courses at the Institute of Language Advancement, one of their major clients under the Centre for Information Technology Advancement is the Chief Government Security Office (CGSO), and the Central Bank of Malaysia and the Prison Department of Malaysia have also had their employees attend courses run by IIUM’s SBUs.
Something for Everyone: The programmes offered by the SBUs deal exclusively with material that would appeal to working adults. “The programmes act as a link between the university and the public,” explains Professor Faris. “They range between executive diplomas that require a year of study, and the usual postgraduate degrees that would take three years to complete. We also have short courses to cater to demand. Basically there is something for everyone.”
The requirements for some of the programmes under the SBU differ from that of regular courses under a faculty. As the target audience is working adults, some programmes would be willing to take into greater account the work experience accumulated by a potential student in their field.
Professor Faris notes the importance of contributing to the community in terms of necessary skills and knowledge. It would be a simple matter to offer the same popular courses as other institutions, but that would result in limitations on the skills of students available on the market. This stagnation of knowledge could severely affect Malaysia’s intention to become a high-income nation by 2020, as the job market and employers increasingly appreciate innovation and niche knowledge.
“What we aim to do is to enhance and train the public with these programmes,” says Professor Faris. “By identifying areas that are necessary, relevant and contemporary to the related industries, we are able to offer courses that maximise the productivity of our graduates as members of the national workforce.”
To pinpoint programmes to develop, each SBU conducts research in their individual fields to discover market demands and employer expectations. For example, GSM started its DBA programme in the last few years based on the demands of the public as well as that of the industry. Students themselves have been the catalysts to the creation of SBU collaborations and getting their courses recognised.
“We had a lawyer who took our Syariah course offered in Singapore. She was practicing law in Hong Kong, and once she completed her qualifications, she brought the course to the attention of the Hong Kong Law Society where it was recognised as one of programmes that would make a lawyer eligible to obtain the full 15 continuous professional development points,” Professor Faris gives an example.
Professor Faris also acknowledges the fact that they take into consideration the roles of accessible infrastructure and staff expertise in the programmes they offer. “Although the programmes under the SBUs are independent of the faculties, they still utilise the same staff and infrastructure,” he explains. “We occasionally bring in outside specialists if the course calls for it, and that depends on their availability.” IIUM is dedicated to providing quality education, and not taking into account these factors could lead to sub par results that would undermine its prestigious reputation.
A Comprehensive Education: In many ways, IIUM is an impressive choice for lifelong learning. Not only do they provide niche specialties in terms of programmes, they also maintain a consistent level of Islamic values imbued in their teachings to ensure their students graduate with a comprehensive education.
Their expertise has also brought IIUM’s SBUs to international attention. Under the Harun M. Hashim Law Centre, a training course on land administration and development in Islam funded by UN-HABITAT was led by Professor Syed Khalid Rashid, an expert in Waqaf, alternative dispute resolution and property law from the Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws. Capacity building programmes for Sudanese Judges under the Sudan Judiciary was spearheaded by Professor Hunud Abia Kadouf an expert in land law and international law.
While IIUM is recognised for its unique staff specialisations, the institution also thrives on diversity. “We are an international university, and a good percentage of our students come from abroad,” Professor Faris points out. The student population at IIUM is made up of more than 90 different nationalities, including those from non-Muslim majority countries like Australia and the Philippines. “One of our main draws both locally and internationally is the fact that we are a primarily English-medium institution with some courses being taught in Arabic.”
IIUM’s diversity and specialised expertise work together to fill a chasm in the local lifelong learning scene, offering a comprehensive education that covers both practical and ethical necessity.