A tour of the Australian actuarial education system

The Actuaries Institute’s present-day Education Program, equipped with a wealth of career-shaping subjects across the Foundation, Actuary and Fellowship Programs, has come a long way since it was first discussed at a strategy meeting in 2015.

Back then, the Education Strategy Group dreamt of a long-term vision to revolutionise the actuarial education landscape. There have been significant achievements and key learnings embraced across the seven-year journey, resulting in the world-class program that the Institute’s Members know and love today.

At this year’s All-Actuaries Summit, delegates were taken on an adventure to explore the Education Program’s key milestones in the mini-plenary A tour of the Australian actuarial education system.

Amanda Aitken in tour guide mode at the 2022 All-Actuaries Summit.

To inject some fun into the session, speakers turned into ‘tour guides’ who were tasked with guiding delegates along this journey. The tour commenced with a ‘safety briefing’ from Amanda Aitken (Actuarial Educator at the Institute) where she guided the audience on the early stages of the new program, including the initial objectives set out by the Education Strategy Group in 2015.

“The Education Strategy Group of the Actuaries Institute was formed to discuss the long-term vision for actuarial education,” Amanda said.

“We spent a lot of time looking into this and came up with five key recommendations for our Education Program.”

Of the five recommendations, one set about improving the quality of the Education Program. There was a need to modernise the Program and provide additional pathways for students working beyond the traditional areas of general and life insurance. Another recommendation was improving the sustainability and flexibility of the Program in the future, as well as ensuring continual recognition with international actuarial organisations.

Off the back of these recommendations, the Institute established an internal Education Delivery Team. Back in 2018, this consisted of just three actuaries and was headed by Mike Callan (Executive General Manager, Education).

“Flash forward to four years later, we’re now a team of 11 actuaries. We’re teaching 12 new actuarial subjects spanning the traditional industry-based pathways of Life, GI (General Insurance), Health and Investments. Plus we’ve got an ERM (Enterprise Risk Management) subject that just launched this year,” Amanda said.

Amanda went on to explain a skills-based pathway, which includes the Data Analytics Applications subject that was launched in 2021 and a new Banking subject that will be introduced in 2023.

“Cabin crew, prepare for takeoff!”

The rapid development of the Education Program is a testament to the effective collaboration of actuaries all around Australia. Delegates “boarded the fastest plane on Earth” and were taken on a 20-minute video journey, visiting key stakeholders in the Education Program’s development, student graduates, and actuarial employers. Participants in the video were based in theoretical locations such as Disney Land and Mount Fuji and talked about their ‘journey so far’.

With the window shade up, tray table stowed away, and seatbelts fastened, delegates first heard from Jenny Lyon (Past President of the Institute) who discussed why the Education Program required a facelift.

“We’d had some demand from students wanting different pathways to Fellowship. They felt that some of the older pathways were not appropriate for where they were working and so we wanted a system that would enable new pathways to be brought in in the future,” Jenny explained.

Mike made a ‘mid-flight announcement’ and added that there have been many highlights across the journey.

“For me personally it was a great opportunity just to develop the skills I’ve built in industry and university, and it’s the opportunity to really think about helping actuaries in the future avoid many of the mistakes that I made earlier in my career,” Mike said.

“That gave me the impetus to want to do this, to give them the education and the opportunity to make sure that they understood really deeply the topics being taught” Mike reflected.

Engaging with and aligning with universities is an essential piece to the Education Program’s puzzle. Adam Butt (Associate Professor, Australian National University [ANU]) delved into the trends in the profile of actuarial students.

“Historically we always had the really strong math students who came into actuarial studies,” Adam said.

“But at ANU I’ve noticed a lot of students who may not have done the top level of mathematics… but they have a real practical business focus in the way they want to approach their career, and they have really strong soft skills such as communication and problem solving.”

The video also featured cameos from recently qualified actuaries who have first-hand experience of participating in the Education Program. For Anita Mansbridge (Associate Director, UBS), the continued introduction of new subjects across the three program pillars has provided her with greater “validation” to her studies.

“The new subjects are so much better in that it’s kind of like a multimedia approach. There are videos and notes and you get to meet every week to consolidate your learning and have that affirmation that what you’re learning is correct,” Anita said.

Richard Zhou (Senior Analyst, PwC) also had similar sentiments about the Education Program.

“The new course structure, how it’s being delivered, it’s really good and it’s set up in a way that emphasises teaching and helping students to acquire the skills and develop the knowledge that’s required, rather than simply examining whether they have it (knowledge) or not,” Richard said.

The wealth of experience and learnings which graduates harness throughout their studies provides “valuable, transferable knowledge”, according to Victor Bajanov (Executive Product Analytics, Quantium), who in his role at Quantium hires newly qualified actuaries.

“The people (graduates) tend to have more of a commercial lens and intuitively understand why something might idealistically be the right thing to do, but you know doesn’t fit the commercial constraints of the situation,” Victor said.

After the 20-minute ‘tour’, and with delegates’ feet now firmly planted on the ground, Janice Jones (Actuarial Educator) facilitated a panel discussion with Hannes Boshoff (Chief Actuary, HBF Health), Richard, Mike, Amanda and concurrent chair Tim Jenkins.

From left, Tim Jenkins, Hannes Boshoff, Richard Zhou, Amanda Aitken and Mike Callan.

Hannes kicked off the discussion by shedding some light on his own experience with using the Institute’s Education Program to transition from working overseas, specifically through completing the Program’s Private Health Insurance course.

“The two main things that it that it offered me was the confidence for myself, because from a professional perspective you shouldn’t put your hand up to do something that you are not sure that you can do appropriately,” Hannes said.

“And secondly, for the confidence in the people that I work with in having a certificate or a formal process to confirm that I have been across the more material things.”

The panel then took questions from the audience, where ‘prospective travelers’ and ‘keen observers’ from outside the profession offered feedback on courses and suggestions on future objectives of the Education Program.

If you have any suggestions for the future of the Education Program, please contact us at education@actuaries.asn.au.

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