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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The education system

In your interview with Sir Derek Morris, he addresses much of his attention to the actuarial education system. This is a closed system, opaque to outsiders and indeed to students. It is also a system of worryingly frequent change, which would tend to indicate our uncertainty as to deciding what tests an actuary must pass to enter our exclusive club. In my 11 or so years in the profession, I think we have seen four different examination systems.

The common themes between these systems are ‘no appeal’ and no peer review outside the profession. In other words, it is accountable neither to our prospective entrants (students) nor to our customers/employers.

There has been an implicit guarantee of quality established over many years by virtue of the fact that those who have conquered the exams have tended to be rather good at their jobs. However, as we are all aware this fact has been questioned in recent years as financial losses have had great impact on many people and we have been blamed. This tarnishes our implicit guarantee of quality as people question the value of an award bestowed by us on our kind with no external (and little internal) accountability.

I am aware that examiners are truly professional, and that our examinations are conducted to the highest standard. And I am also aware that opening up examination results to appeal would lead to a flood of complaints (any FA result would probably appeal), a far greater central overhead to deal with these complaints, and potential legislation.

But a good way to restore confidence in our examination system would be to allow independent review of our examination procedures. This might be provided (perhaps on a reciprocal basis) by other professions, or by another independent body. This would take the form of an audit and maybe also a sampling of marked papers to ensure standards are high and consistently applied.

The ability to defend our examination system against criticism would deflect attention from the profession to individual ‘bad apples’ or to employers applying unreasonable pressure on their staff. It is my opinion that the latter deserve this attention as much as the profession which, I believe, manages itself very, well, professionally. This would be a surprise to any outsiders who had read the rather poor press we have been suffering in recent months.