CIA (e)Bulletin/(e)Bulletin de l'ICA
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November 2013
 
 

The UAP – The Year in Review and the Way Forward

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By Rob Stapleford, FCIA

These are interesting and exciting times for the CIA on the education front. In Jason Vary’s September (e)Bulletin article "The Canadian Education System – A Balanced Approach", he wrote about the CIA taking greater control of and accountability for the education of actuaries in Canada, and the work that is currently underway to define a Canadian education syllabus that will form the basis of how education providers and partners are selected.

The University Accreditation Program (UAP) is one of the key sources of education for Associate-level qualification, and, for the first time in Canada, makes it possible to become an ACIA without first achieving another actuarial designation. In a few years the CIA will be granting Fellowship to these members upon their successful completion of the additional education and examination requirements. The FCIA being awarded as a stand-alone designation, i.e., "not having to be aligned to another (actuarial) credential", is one of the Institute’s Long-Term Strategic Goals. Soon, you will see actuarial candidates at job interviews who have CIA exemptions for some of the preliminary exams. This is one reason why the CIA’s diligence with respect to high standards in the development and maintenance of the UAP is essential. The Accreditation Committee (AC), Eligibility and Education Council (EEC), and CIA Board, in partnership with our accredited Canadian universities, have been working hard since 2010—when the CIA Board reaffirmed its commitment to the UAP—to ensure these standards are established and maintained.

In October, you heard about the Society of Actuaries’ (SOA) decision not to recognize CIA UAP exemptions. In spite of this, the CIA remains committed to the program, which is directly aligned with the Institute’s long-term strategy. The CIA believes that the UAP is efficient and that the structured class setting is the right environment for preliminary education and assessment. Ultimately, the SOA decision means that CIA candidates who are focused on the ASA and FSA designations will need to write the preliminary exams instead of pursuing UAP credit. Successful UAP candidates will achieve the ACIA and FCIA through a combination of exam exemptions and the completion of the remaining CIA education requirements, most of which are outsourced to the SOA for the retirement, individual life, group, and finance tracks. Logistically, this works through the CIA’s agreement with the SOA that they will track and allow UAP candidates to seamlessly complete the remaining education and examination requirements for the ACIA and FCIA, even though some preliminary exams would be replaced by CIA exemptions.

The CIA recognizes the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) education system for property and casualty (P&C) education, and the CAS recognizes CIA exemptions, so it is currently possible for a CIA candidate to achieve the ACAS and FCAS designations through the UAP route. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries of the UK also recognizes CIA exemptions, and the American Academy of Actuaries recognizes the FCIA designation (achieved through any means) towards the attainment of the MAAA designation, with the appropriate U.S. work experience. Therefore, there are still many options for UAP candidates who are concerned with working outside of Canada. In Canada, the FCIA is the only legally-recognized actuarial qualification.

The UAP completed its inaugural year in the summer of 2013. Now, in year two of its implementation, the AC is focused on evaluation and improvement. To this end, the AC, Accreditation Actuaries (AcAs), and CIA staff met in early October to assess key policy issues, discuss quantitative measurements, commence planning for the three-year review, and obtain feedback from the AcAs. After a thorough review of the first year, and almost 40 exam exemptions being granted, the AC feels that the program is working well. The following section provides highlights of the discussions and outcomes of the meeting.

Exemption Grades

The percentage of students who achieved the exemption grades in each of the accredited universities over the past year was reviewed and compared with the AC’s initial predictions. The predictions were made based on actual student grades over the past two offerings of each course and by comparing these numbers with the SOA/CAS passing percentages by university for the relevant exams, as well as the overall passing percentages of the exam writer population. Exemption grades were set for each course with the overall goal of making the achievement of exemptions at least as difficult as passing the corresponding exam. The AC considered that the data represented only one year of the program and would need to be analyzed over several years in order to draw any significant conclusions. However, the AC was comfortable with the fact that the actual number of students achieving the exemption grade was lower than predicted, and was lower than the overall SOA university statistics.

It was noted that the lower-than-anticipated percentage of students achieving exemptions could be one indicator that it is harder to achieve UAP exemptions than it is to pass the corresponding exam. The UAP may also be segmenting the strongest students. The AC recognized that these results must be interpreted with care as they may be influenced by many factors, and it will continue to monitor future grades carefully. The AC will study each student cohort as they progress through the degree program, and will continue to assess, where possible, through the later exams towards Fellowship in the CIA.

Grade Inflation

In 2013, the External Examiners were asked to assess the universities on the potential for grade inflation and it became clear that a common definition of grade inflation was required. The AC and AcAs agreed that two types of grade inflation could be possible:

  • Good grade inflation—students work harder to achieve the exemption grade in all courses, leading to overall higher percentages of students achieving the exemption grade year over year; and
  • Bad grade inflation—instructors mark students more leniently, resulting in a higher percentage of students achieving the exemption grade year over year.

Bad grade inflation could also occur through the university setting benchmark percentages for students to achieve the exemption grade. The AC concluded that it can put trust in the quality control mechanisms of the UAP policy and guidelines (including the External Examiner reviews), the professionalism of the appointed AcAs, and the university’s internal processes for examination and grading and quality control. Success in maintaining high standards and good practices comes from good communication between the CIA, each AcA, and the course instructors. The AcAs agreed that making the exemption grade easier to achieve for students does a disservice to all, and they would remind course instructors of their responsibility to the university, to the UAP agreement, and to the students.

Student Feedback/Concerns

Feedback from students indicates that they are concerned about their future career options. The AC and AcAs concluded that the CIA should do more to promote the program with students and employers in Canada and to increase the FCIA brand recognition internationally. Promoting the value and portability of the FCIA designation will give students greater confidence in following the UAP route. Employers need to be knowledgeable about the program and while there is no evidence to suggest that they would make biased hiring decisions to choose a candidate with exams over one with exemptions, the more knowledgeable they are about the program and the CIA’s standards, the better.

Academic Involvement

It was generally agreed that more academics should get involved with the CIA and the Institute should encourage academic participation as they can provide great insight to the CIA even beyond the UAP. The program has the potential to enhance academic independence and to create greater awareness of the strength of academic-based actuarial education, but will not reach its full potential without excellent collaboration between academics and practitioners.

Review of the UAP

The strategic review of the UAP in 2014–2015 will be important to the AC, EEC, and Board, as well as to employers, education partners, and CIA members. In particular, the CAS agreement to recognize CIA exemptions granted through the UAP requires such a review. Short-term review measures include instructors’ adherence to the syllabus, student data monitoring, a review of examination scripts and sample student examinations, and qualitative information from AcAs, instructors, and External Examiners. Longer-term measures will come from employers and UAP candidate results on Fellowship examinations. Therefore, having data sharing among the CIA/SOA/CAS is critical.

In conclusion, ultimately the CIA is accountable for the designations it administers and must ensure that the standards for the ACIA and FCIA designations continue to be very high. The UAP must produce candidates that have the requisite knowledge and skills for ACIA-level education so that they have the technical base of knowledge that they need as they prepare for the practical aspects of the Fellowship exams.

The AC continues to uphold the CIA’s strong standards to ensure that the program remains a viable and trusted element of the Canadian Education System.

For more information on the UAP please visit the CIA website. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome and can be directed to accreditation@cia-ica.ca.

Rob Stapleford, FCIA, is Chair of the Accreditation Committee.

 

 

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