Economic and Management Sciences

Read any articles in the media today and it won’t be long before someone is quoting facts and figures. Modern technology generates large volumes of data and information at a rapid pace. Society increasingly relies on skilled professionals to analyse this data and information. Our courses develop the skills needed to extract meaningful insights from this data and information to enhance business decision-making by using a data-driven approach.

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What Stellenbosch University degree should I choose if I want to become an actuary?

A 3-year BCom (Actuarial Science) degree.

Thereafter, an optional 1-year BComHons (Actuarial Science) degree.

Additionally, you might even wish to study further towards a Postgraduate Diploma or Masters degree in Actuarial Science.

These degrees allow you to earn exemptions (question 6 explains this term) from some of the examinations of the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

I’m very strong in mathematics. Is Actuarial Science the right degree for me?

To study this degree one must certainly have very strong mathematical skills (most actuarial students would have achieved a mark well in excess of 90% in grade 12 mathematics). However, the actuarial qualification is not a purely mathematical degree, but looks at applying mathematical and statistical skills to solve business problems and communicate the outcome to stakeholders. A strong interest in business is therefore also important as is the ability to communicate clearly.

I am unsure whether I should study BCom (Actuarial Science) or BAcc?

Both degrees are aimed at making progress towards professional qualifications.

However, the two professions develop different skill sets and the nature of the work carried out by actuaries would typically be quite different to that done by accountants and auditors. The profession which would suit you the best would depend on your own preference and ability.

The actuarial curriculum has a much stronger focus on the fields of mathematics and statistics (and their application in business contexts), so actuaries are ideally positioned to quantify and manage risk and uncertainty. Actuaries tend to be involved in answering questions about the future.

To find out more about the BAcc degree, please visit the School of Accountancy.

Can I switch to a different degree if I later find that BCom (Actuarial Science) is not for me?

Yes, switching to another degree is always possible.

If you switch to a degree within the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, it may even be possible to graduate within the three year term of a BCom degree (particularly if you switch within the first two years).

However, if you want to switch to a degree that is outside of our department, it may entail an additional year of study. This should not deter you from making a change if you want to move into another field of study, however, as actuarial science is not the correct fit for every student.

Some students also switch to a different field of study (e.g. to Mathematical Statistics) after having completed their BCom(Actuarial Science) degree.

Am I a qualified actuary when I graduate with my BCom (Actuarial Science) degree?

No, to become a qualified actuary you need to pass the examinations of the Actuarial Society of South Africa. Full details of the Actuarial Society of South Africa’s requirements are available at: https://www.actuarialsociety.org.za/student-zone/

The BCom (Actuarial Science) and the BComHons (Actuarial Science) degrees can speed up the process of passing these examinations if you perform to a satisfactory level in these degrees and obtain exemptions for some of the Actuarial Society examinations.

What is an “exemption”?

To qualify as an actuary, one must pass all the subjects as specified by the Actuarial Society of South Africa. The BCom (Actuarial Science) and BComHons (Actuarial Science) degrees include modules which cover the material of some of the subjects of the Actuarial Society of South Africa. If you perform to a satisfactory level in these degree modules, it will be as if you have passed some of the Actuarial Society of South Africa examinations and it will not be necessary to write these examinations through the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

You can find more detail about the various Actuarial Society of South Africa subjects and the exemptions available at Stellenbosch University in our undergraduate brochure.

How many exemptions can I gain from my Stellenbosch University studies?

BCom (Actuarial Science) degree: A maximum of 8 exemptions. BComHons (Actuarial Science) degree: A maximum of 2 exemptions. PGDip/Masters (Actuarial Science): A maximum of 2 exemptions.

This is the maximum number of exemptions from the Actuarial Society of South Africa’s examinations available through any university.

What are the differences between the BBusSc degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the BCom (Actuarial Science) & BComHons (Actuarial Science) degree from Stellenbosch University?

There is no real difference in helping you to qualify as an actuary, as both programmes include modules that can lead to exemptions from the same Actuarial Society of South Africa subjects after 4 years.

The BBusSc degree is a 4-year Bachelors degree. At Stellenbosch University our BCom degree is a 3-year degree which is followed by an (optional) 1-year Honours degree. Both universities host their Actuarial Science programmes in an Economic and Management Sciences / Commerce Faculty, rather than a Science Faculty as is done in some other universities. This reflects that fact that there is a business focus to the qualification.

There are some differences in the other subjects (i.e. subjects that are not related to exemptions) that are included in the two degrees. The main difference arises between the programmes in the 4th year of study, where Stellenbosch University has a stronger focus on Mathematical Statistics and Data Science compared to UCT which puts more emphasis on the  business component.

How do I decide where to study Actuarial Science?

It is important to consider the number of exemptions offered through a university, as well as the experience of the academic staff in the Actuarial Science team. The number of actuaries on the permanent staff of the department is also very relevant.

On all of these counts Stellenbosch University comes out extremely well. Not only can we offer the most exemptions, but the 8 actuaries on our permanent staff offer decades of university experience as well as significant practical experience from industry.

How many years do I have to study after the BCom (Actuarial Science) and the BComHons (Actuarial Science) degrees to qualify as an actuary?

It depends on how many exemptions you obtain during your university studies, as well as how well you do in studying part-time while working thereafter. It is worth noting that the pass rates of the later Actuarial Society of South Africa examinations are generally low (a pass rate of around 30% is common).

All outstanding subjects (those in which an exemption has not been obtained) need to be passed by writing the appropriate examination or attending the relevant course with the Actuarial Society of South Africa. The Actuarial Society of South Africa holds exams twice a year, one in each half of the year.

As a minimum it would take at least another 3 years, after graduating with an honours degree, to qualify as an actuary. However, it often takes longer than this.

What job opportunities are available after I graduate?

There are many job opportunities available for graduates with an actuarial skill set. Actuaries (and recent actuarial graduates) typically work in areas such as life insurance, general insurance, medical schemes, investments and banking.

Many non-traditional areas are now also employing actuarial candidates due to their skills in risk and financial modelling.

Can I work abroad with my qualification from the Actuarial Society of South Africa?

The Actuarial Society of South Africa has various mutual recognition agreements in place with other actuarial bodies around the world.

The mutual recognition agreements recognize the equivalence of qualification and facilitate admission to membership of associations in other countries with the corresponding professional designation. There may be certain conditions attached, for example passing examinations about the regulatory environment of the country.

The list includes international actuarial bodies in countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States of America. Full details can be found on the website of the Actuarial Society of South Africa at: (https://www.actuarialsociety.org.za/)

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What is the difference between BDatSci and the degrees BCom Mathematical Sciences & BSc Computer Science with focal areas Data Science?

The BCom and BSc degrees are both three‐year degree programmes. To register for a Master’s degree, you’ll first need to complete an Honours degree after the initial three years. The BCom and BSc degrees do not offer specific Data Science modules in the programme; the BCom is more commerce/business orientated while the BSc is more natural sciences orientated. On completion of these degrees, students can register for an Honours degree in any of the majors of their third years. The big advantage of the BDatSci degree is that you will specialise in a very specific data‐rich envirionment by selecting one of the much sought‐after focal areas. Your research project in the fourth year is a direct application and specialist research in the particular data‐rich environment.

Can you change from BCom Mathematical Sciences or BSc Computer Science to BDatSci any time?

Yes, depending on which modules you have completed. However, you’ll still have to register for the Data Science modules from year 1. This means that you may need to study more than 4 years to complete the degree. Focal areas also require specific modules; you cannot study modules that are not specified by the focal area. In the BDatSci degree, the focal area modules are compulsory from the 2nd year onwards, and you’ll have to register for all of them. You need to apply to Prof PJ Mostert at pjmos@sun.ac.za with a motivational letter. Your application will be considered by the BDatSci programme Committee for approval. No student will be allowed to register for BDatSci without prior approval.

Can you change between the focal areas of BDatSci?

Yes, provided you still take the required modules of the particular focal area. It may mean in certain cases that you need to study more than 4 years to complete the compulsory modules for a specific focal area. The modules of a focal area cannot be replaced by modules in other degree programmes. The are 4 focal areas that have the same first year, switching between these focal areas will be easier – consult the calendar.

Must you register from the first year in a focal area?

Yes, from the first year you should follow the specified modules that make up the first year in a specific focal area with the required minimum credits. You may take additional modules not listed in the calendar under BDatSci, but these modules may not replace the required modules in a specific focal area.

Can you switch from BCom Actuarial Science to BDatSci?

Having started with BCom Actuarial Science, the easiest switch to BDatSci is at the end of semester 1 of your first year. After first 6 months data Science 141 is taken and then follow the rest of BDatSci first year modules. The change to BDatSci will then be official at the end of year 1. The longer you wait, the more BDatSci modules you need to catch up on. For example, if you change to BDatSci at the end of year 1 without registering for Data Science 141, means that an extra year is added to your studies, since Data Science 141 is a pass requisite for Data Science 241 etc and these two modules cannot be taken simultaneously. The two degrees   are   very   different,   despite having   the   same minimum admission requirements. Always consult the faculty calendars to see which modules are required for particular degree programmes. Approval to change to BDatSci should be obtained from the BDatSci programme Committee by emailing pjmos@sun.ac.za.

Can you change from BDatSci to BCom/BSc after year 1 or year 2?

You may, provided you are enrolled for the required modules of the respective degrees. Both BCom and BSc require specific modules as elective and compulsory modules.

What are the job prospects?

The Harvard Review claims Data Scientist: The sexiest job of the 21st century. Follow the link here to read more about the need for data scientists.

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