Actuarial examinations : what can be learnt from the students' perspective?
This thesis presents a detailed analysis of the student experience of qualifying as an actuary, and reflects upon what might be learnt from this. The actuarial profession is small and, outside the financial sector, little known. However, within the financial sector, actuaries are influential. Their professional examinations are seen as very demanding and the qualification is coveted. This exploration of the students' perspective, breaks new ground in research on the profession by: adopting principles of 'illuminative evaluation' (Parlett & Hamilton, 1972) and later developments in qualitative research; and using adult learning theory as the conceptual framework. Themes which emerged from the study coalesce around three dominant concerns: adjusting to the learning milieu, the disjuncture between expectation and experience and, finding and decoding clues. These are elaborated separately, then integrated in a series of case studies which demonstrate the diversity of student experience. Dynamic Concept Analysis (Kontiainen, 1973, 1989) is employed to structure the case studies, and highlight the relational nature of influences upon the learning experience. Kontiainen's model of adult learning (1991) is modified to improve its interpretive power in the context of distance learning, and to incorporate the findings of research into student approaches to learning. Contributions are made to the discourses of actuarial education, professional education, distance education and adult learning. Attention is drawn to the pivotal role of the correspondence course tutor in supporting: adjustment to the learning milieu; and high quality learning. Overload is a recurrent theme, and is associated with perceptions of control and validity. Questioning of the validity of several aspects of the education and assessment processes by members of the profession, is discussed. A possible general model for the student experience of actuarial examinations is presented.