The CIA University Accreditation Program: The Pursuit of Thoroughness

By Joseph Gabriel, FCIA

Through my first year as staff actuary, education, with the CIA, the bulk of my time and the learning curve related to my position pertained to the University Accreditation Program (UAP): how it works, its administration, and how it has been implemented in the 11 accredited universities. I was very impressed with the breadth of the documentation and processes that surround the program. I was most curious to find out how the program could guarantee the sacrosanct thoroughness and rigor of actuarial examinations.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the CIA’s process for ongoing monitoring of the quality of the program in accredited universities through the annual external examiner (EE) process. If you would like more background information on the program and requirements for exemptions, please click on the above link or e-mail and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

EEs are an independent group that reviews each university’s program, and the most notable comment we received from them was: "The university programs are well constructed, often bringing an education dimension that is fundamentally absent in the traditional preliminary exams . . ."

EE visits are performed annually during May and early June and consist of an on-site audit over one to two days of each accredited university. The CIA starts by recruiting FCIAs who preferably have experience in education. Each EE is assigned one or two universities, and is accompanied by one of the CIA’s staff actuaries, either Chris Fievoli or myself, to ensure consistency from one university to the next.

In preparation for the visits, the accreditation actuary (AcA) from each university works with course instructors to collect a significant amount of documentation:

During the visit all of this information is examined to gauge exam difficulty, the breadth of material coverage, and compliance with CIA requirements. The marking of papers is checked to assess consistency in how marks are acquired or subtracted between different levels of students. Any issues are then discussed with the AcA, instructors, and relevant university representatives. The goals of such open dialogue are to ensure that the university is fully aware of the CIA’s best practices and requirements, and allow the CIA to learn more about the university’s internal quality control processes.

Following each visit, the EEs’ extensive reports are submitted to the CIA Accreditation Committee (AC) for review. They encompass numerous areas: results of the previous year’s report, methods used by the university to promote the program, the AcA’s influence and visibility, adherence by instructors to the syllabus and course outlines, observations on testing and examination procedures of individual course instructors, changes—if any—at the university, links with the profession, and job placement statistics for students, where available.

Findings of The External Examiners (EE) process

Overall, the CIA is very satisfied with the EE review process. It involves a collaborative approach between the AC, EEs, university representatives, and CIA staff. Some findings to note include: 

Universities are showing great commitment to the program and the CIA is working hard at continually building and maintaining a healthy, collaborative partnership which is helping to develop the actuaries of the future. To date the process has required a large time commitment from the universities, CIA staff, and volunteers. Now the UAP is up and running well, we believe that commitment can be reduced without any deterioration of standards.

To this end, the CIA is undergoing a first-principles review of the program, which includes an in-depth look at all aspects of the UAP, from administrative procedures to guidelines, and from program awareness to its operation. We are looking for ways to make a good program better.

To conclude, the EE process is a pivotal element of the success of the UAP. The early years of the program revealed that though minor adjustments were in order, it is bound by the profession’s rigor and thoroughness.

In the near future we’ll be looking for member input on the program as part of the review. Please watch for these opportunities to provide your thoughts. I encourage you to participate!

Joseph Gabriel, FCIA, is staff actuary, education, at the CIA. 

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires