The Canadian University Accreditation Process

By Peter Muirhead, FCIA

The University Accreditation Program (UAP) 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.

Why We Did It

Many Canadian universities:

The CIA also feels that leveraging university accreditation is critical to enhancing the future of the actuarial profession in Canada and that overall we benefit from shifting the attention of students from practicing how to pass exams to focusing on success at university and obtaining a well-rounded education. The net effect is a reduction of duplication in the evaluation process and greater efficiency in completing the qualification requirements for the ACIA, allowing candidates to focus earlier on preparing for the Fellowship-level exams. The true test for UAP candidates will be their success and progression through the Fellowship requirements as they demonstrate that they have mastered the skills required.

The UAP’s Goals

The goal of the UAP is not to introduce a degree requirement for the profession, or make actuarial education elitist by requiring top marks. It is an option—for strong Canadian candidates—to obtain credit for some of the preliminary exams. The preliminary exams of the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) will continue to be recognized by the CIA for candidates who do not pursue exemptions.

Another advantage of the UAP is that it can allow the actuarial profession to attract top talent. The road to becoming an actuary is often seen by students as too long or having too few early rewards when compared to other professions. Creative thinking is essential regarding our education system in order to attract future actuaries who will maintain the profession’s well-respected position in the financial marketplace, and who will continue to expand opportunities for actuaries in the future.

The Canadian Actuarial Syllabus

Ultimately, the CIA has responsibility for defining what it means to be an actuary in Canada, primarily for the protection of the public interest. Across all aspects of its education system, the Institute must choose the best assessment and validation methods for the credentials (ACIA, FCIA) that we bestow on our members. The CIA takes its responsibilities very seriously and continues to do so with the UAP. Proactive responsibility lies in the appropriate education of future members and the Institute is now, more than ever, stepping up to the plate on education.

One example of this paradigm shift is the new Canadian syllabus of education. In the near future, the CIA will have its own syllabus of education that will continue to be fulfilled through:

The difference is that it will be uniquely defined by the CIA as a stand-alone education system leading to the ACIA and FCIA designations, rather than necessarily being derived from other actuarial credentials. This is one of the Institute’s four long-term strategic goals:

"The CIA is viewed as an educational body, not just an accreditation body. It takes full accountability for the educational path to FCIA (which may involve outsourcing) with the FCIA recognized as being a high-quality stand-alone educational designation (i.e., not having to be aligned to another designation)."

Where We Are Now

For courses beginning in the fall of 2012, 10 Canadian universities with recognized actuarial science programs were accredited by the CIA. In 2013, another was added.

Since their initial accreditation, all universities have undergone an external examiner (EE) visit in 2013 and in 2014. The EE’s review covers:

EEs also meet with key contacts at the university, including the accreditation actuary or AcA (a Fellow who is a member of the CIA and who is responsible for the UAP within their university) and course instructors to share information regarding the CIA’s best practices.

The Students

Students applying for exemptions must achieve the minimum required 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 based on the historical passing percentages of students from each university on SOA and CAS exams. The minimum exemption grades of B+ and higher vary by course and by university and are monitored annually by the CIA.

To date, 100 students have received exam exemptions, some with multiple exemptions for a total of 131 exemptions granted at the time this article was written. The average grade of those receiving CIA exam credits was, on average, 9.5 marks above the required exemption grade.

What We’ve Learned So Far

The EE process revealed that the universities are rigorous in their adherence to our syllabus and in their evaluation of the students, and that the goal of providing educational experiences that could not be obtained through the traditional self-study approach is being achieved.

One area of concern to the CIA and its stakeholders is the potential for grade inflation. This can occur for many reasons, including the possibility that instructors mark too leniently, or that the existence of the UAP may result in students working harder to achieve the required grades. In their reviews, the EEs found no evidence of grade inflation, but did identify a few areas where recommendations were made for consistency in achieving CIA best practices.

The Institute seeks to recognize the academic freedom of instructors in choosing the best examination methods, but at the same time must be confident that the syllabus is being appropriately covered and that examinations and tests demonstrate the degree to which the student has mastered the content. Universities agree that making the exemption grade easier to achieve does a disservice to all.

Success in maintaining high standards comes from good communication between the CIA, the AcAs, and the course instructors. Through regular communication including an annual face-to-face meeting with AcAs, the CIA and the universities are able to identify and share ideas with the aim of continually improving the program for the good of all.

Awareness and Acceptance of the UAP

The CAS and the UK Faculty and Institute of Actuaries both recognize CIA exemptions towards the fulfilment of their respective designations, FCAS and FIA.

Given the SOA board’s decision not to recognize exemptions from the CIA towards the ASA and FSA designations, some concern exists among students that the UAP will limit their career opportunities. We must remember that the FCIA is the designation for Canadian actuaries, and the UAP is based on the learning objectives of the preliminary exams used by the CIA, CAS, and SOA. A candidate for employment with UAP exemptions and a candidate who has written the associated exams should be treated equally. It is also important to note that 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.

We are continually in communication with employers so that they understand the UAP and what it achieves. Many employers have told us that they see no difference between the two kinds of candidates. We must spread this word to the front-line recruiters so that they understand as well and do not make biased hiring decisions.

The CIA will continue promoting the value and portability of the FCIA designation and the fact that regardless of how it is obtained, it is a first-class designation, respected internationally.

The Way Forward

Now well into its third year, the UAP is gaining momentum and remains a strategic and viable component of the CIA education system. The Accreditation Committee is continually evaluating and improving aspects of it and as such will be undertaking a first-principles review over the coming months. Part of this review will include reaching out more broadly to CIA members to raise awareness of the program, gauge member perceptions, and gather feedback that will help the evolution of the UAP as part of the CIA’s overall education strategy. We hope you will engage and help us continue to strengthen the Canadian education system for future members.

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Questions and comments may be directed to:

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires