The Canadian Education System—A Balanced Approach

 

By Jason Vary, FCIA

The Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) has responsibility for defining what it means to be an actuary in Canada. As such, only Fellows of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries are considered to be fully qualified actuaries in Canada. The recent introduction of the University Accreditation Program (UAP) and ACIA designation has not changed this, nor will it.

The CIA takes its responsibilities very seriously, including the Institute’s responsibility to the public, above the needs of the profession and its members – as stated in the Institute’s mission statement. Taking true responsibility does not simply mean having a robust discipline process in place to enforce the Rules of Professional Conduct. Proactive responsibility lies in the appropriate education of future members and the CIA is now, more than ever, taking responsibility and accountability for Canadian education.

To take it a step further, responsibility means defining, in the CIA’s own terms, the education syllabus from preliminary to Fellowship-level education, and it means choosing the best assessment and validation methods for the credentials that the Institute bestows on its members. This is the CIA’s responsibility and our effectiveness will ensure that the FCIA continues to be recognized and valued for the broad perspective, creative insight, and well-developed business acumen that it represents in Canada and internationally.

A more in-depth definition of the Canadian Education System (CES) is currently being developed. At the end of this project, we expect that the CES will continue to be based on the International Actuarial Association (IAA) syllabus, and will align with the educational requirements of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and Society of Actuaries (SOA) syllabuses, but it will be uniquely defined in Canadian terms, as a stand-alone education system leading to the ACIA and FCIA designations, rather than necessarily being derived from other actuarial credentials. And, most importantly, the CIA will control the education syllabus and decide how it will be fulfilled, whether through university education, outsourcing components to other actuarial organizations and education partners, or through the Institute’s own education and professional development programs, such as the current Practice Education Course and Professionalism Workshops.

Consistency, accountability, and control will define the new CIA education paradigm.

One of the components of the CES is the UAP, created by the CIA in 2011 as an evolution of previous work on the Future Education Methods or FEM. The CIA forged ahead on the UAP because it felt that leveraging university accreditation was critical to enhancing the future of the profession in Canada and that it would benefit from shifting focus in the early years from passing exams to obtaining a more well-rounded education. The classroom is the appropriate environment to teach (and test) many of the technical skills that actuaries require now and in the future that will allow them to compete for the best employment opportunities.

The UAP of today provides the CIA with a robust system for recognizing the high-quality education offered by Canadian universities, and provides an option for top actuarial students to complete portions of the Institute’s preliminary eligibility requirements.

For courses beginning in the fall of 2012, certain Canadian universities with recognized actuarial science programs were accredited by the CIA, provided that they met the Institute’s minimum requirements for syllabus coverage, testing and examination procedures, and quality control systems for dealing with cheating and academic dishonesty.

In addition, students applying to the CIA for exemptions must achieve a minimum exemption grade in each course mapped to a single exam syllabus. Usually two to four courses are required for a single exemption. The exemption grades were established for year one, based on the historical passing percentages of students from each university on SOA and CAS exams. The CIA took into consideration the fact that a student would need to meet the minimum exemption grade in every course mapped to an exam, therefore increasing the difficulty factor and likely leading to fewer students qualifying for exemptions than who would be able to pass the professional exams. The minimum exemption grades, which range between A and B by course and by university, are monitored annually for appropriateness.

With the first year of the UAP complete and the program now entering year two, the CIA continues to assess the success of its implementation in accredited universities. Feedback from education partners, members, students, academics, instructors, Accreditation Actuaries, and External Examiners (EEs) is taken into consideration, with one of the most significant sources of feedback coming from the EE visits to all accredited universities in the spring of 2013.

The role of the EE is to assess whether the university is upholding its accreditation agreement and that the conditions under which the CIA granted accreditation are being maintained. The EEs look at the syllabus mapping and course outlines, testing and examination procedures, sample student exams and exam scripts, and the number of students achieving the minimum exemption grade. A final report is compiled for each university using a standardized template. As a result of the 2013 EE process, several universities received letters outlining areas that required immediate attention/correction in order to maintain their accreditation status in good standing. The types of issues identified included the practice of transferring weighting from mid-term exams to final exams, which can lead to grade inflation, and which is not permitted under the UAP, as well as inconsistency in grading procedures between various course instructors. The EEs also collected Instructor Acknowledgement Forms, which require the course instructor to verify that they taught to the CIA-approved syllabus, and that the final grade was calculated based on the policy that 80% of the grade came from examination.

The UAP should not be mistaken for the introduction of a degree requirement for the profession, or an attempt to make actuarial education elitist. It merely provides an option for Canadian candidates to apply to the CIA for exam exemptions for preliminary exams FM, MFE, MLC, and C of the SOA, and 3L (future 3LC and 3ST) of the CAS. No exemption is available for exam P/1. CIA candidates still have the option of completing the professional exams of the CAS and SOA, which the CIA will continue to recognize, subject to the CIA’s ongoing monitoring. Fulfilment of the ACAS, ASA, FCAS, FSA and other non-Canadian credentials are among some of the minimum requirements for the achievement of the ACIA and FCIA.

The CAS and the UK Faculty and Institute of Actuaries both recognize CIA exemptions towards the fulfilment of their respective designations, FCAS and FIA, as a result of an extensive review. The FCIA continues to be recognized by the American Academy of Actuaries (AAA) towards the MAAA designation requirements, when combined with the appropriate U.S. experience.

The CIA has worked collaboratively with the SOA to provide regular information and reports on the UAP as the program has evolved in an effort to have the society recognize CIA exemptions and ultimately allow UAP candidates to achieve the FSA designation. The CIA has welcomed observers on the Accreditation Committee from both the SOA and CAS towards this end.

Ultimately, the CIA hopes that the SOA embraces UAP candidates as members, and that these members will ultimately strengthen the society’s education system through volunteerism. The SOA and CIA have long shared a common membership and volunteer resource base, and this is not expected to change.

The UAP has recently attracted a fair amount of attention in SOA publications, including articles in the SOA magazine The Actuary and a blog on the SOA website. So the CIA UAP is clearly on the SOA’s mind.

The Institute appreciates that the practical considerations of a university-based education system are significant for the SOA, as is the relative scalability of adopting such a program in the U.S., and there are implications for the SOA’s international strategy. Whether a similar system would work in the U.S. or elsewhere is not for the CIA to comment on or decide.

The CIA’s concern is with Canada, and the UAP model will proceed as one of the robust elements of the CES—just one element of what the CIA feels is a balanced eligibility and education process. The UAP works for preliminary exams but will not replace Fellowship-level education and exams, nor can it ever replace the practical and Canadian work experience requirements.

The CIA values all of the various perspectives and feedback, both positive and negative, regarding the merits of a university-based system for some of the preliminary exams. All of this dialogue leads to the ongoing strengthening and development of the CES.

Our latest understanding is that the SOA Board will make a decision regarding the UAP next month. While the CIA hopes for a favourable outcome, the decision on whether the society will recognize CIA UAP exemptions towards the ASA and FSA designations will not alter the CIA’s direction on education or its efforts to enhance the recognition and portability of the FCIA designation.

For more information on the UAP or the CIA’s eligibility requirements, visit: http://www.cia-ica.ca/membership/uap
 
Questions may be directed to accreditation@cia-ica.ca

Jason Vary, FCIA, is Chair of the Eligibility and Education Council.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires
http://www.cia-ica.ca/