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Associate professor Walid Hejazi introduces course on Islamic finance at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management

Business schools feed hunger for courses on Islamic finance, aboriginal leadership

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 | September 25, 2014 6:00 AM ET
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Walid Hejazi, associate professor at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, teaches Islamic finance. The course has been met with tremendous interest from both local and international students.

Peter J. Thompson / National PostWalid Hejazi, associate professor at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, teaches Islamic finance. The course has been met with tremendous interest from both local and international students.

Six years ago, Walid Hejazi, associate professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, discovered that half the people in his program had an increasing desire to learn more about the Middle East. It wasn’t surprising given the fact that international students comprise a larger and larger portion of enrolment at the school.

“At the time there was very little offered in terms of Islamic finance on the curriculum,” he says. So he took it upon himself to build a Middle East-focused curriculum, starting with study tours to the region.

After the fourth junket, he introduced a course on Islamic finance.

Because Mr. Hejazi’s parents came to Canada from Lebanon, he has spent a good part of his life and career travelling to the region. “There’s no question that has given me perspective on that part of the world that a vast majority of professors don’t have. In fact, I’m one of the few Arabic professors on the faculty.”

The study tours and course, which focuses on business strategy and economic diversification, have generated a tremendous demand from both local and international students. The class is now at capacity with more waiting to get in. “The demand reflects the interest many students have in that part of the world economically.”

The need for a more diverse approach in business schools crosses all levels, from the makeup of faculty and the curriculum to the students themselves, says Murali Chandrashekaran, associate dean at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.

“This is about business schools responding to the talent needs of organizations working in global environments who are looking for people with greater diversity and backgrounds.”

He stresses diversity from a business school perspective is not so much a moral or equity imperative as it is about long-term sustainability. “Businesses that are diverse in their workforce and talent are not only more innovative, they also work more effectively with the markets they work within. If the world of business is global, the business schools must be similarly global in their outlook.”

Sauder’s own faculty talent pool was designated number one in North America for diversity in a Financial Times ranking. The school also ranked among the top five in terms of international students. “Being in Vancouver, we have a clear window into the Asia-Pacific region, so it’s not surprising that [international] faculty is drawn to work here,” Mr. Chandrashekaran says.

He reports that as of last year, 76% of its instructors have international backgrounds. “Ten years ago that would have been 40%, and the specific focus then was largely on China.” Given the richness of the diversity on staff, many of the courses are team taught.

Class profiles have also evolved to the point where two-thirds of students are international. “Last year one class had 110 students from 32 different countries.”

Mr. Chandrashekaran notes that the diversity focus is not just about building up an international pool of instructors. “For example, schools need to be a lot more proactive in terms of diversity of women faculty and students.”

Diversity on a more local level is playing an integral role in curriculum and staff development at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Two years ago the school introduced an Aboriginal Business and Leadership EMBA program. The intent was to advance aboriginal leaders’ business education, as well as the expertise of managers working on building relations with First Nations communities.

Developing the curriculum was a significant undertaking, as was finding the appropriate teaching expertise given the specialized nature of the program, says Mark Selman, program director.

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Because indigenous culture is such a highly specialized area, a lot of members felt they needed assistance in getting ready, Mr. Selman says. “Quite a few put a great deal of effort into understanding various aboriginal cultures before they began to teach the program. It’s been a tremendous experience that has spread throughout the faculty as a whole.”

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