Next month Nout Wellink, the president of the pensions regulator De Nederlandsche Bank, will launch the Netspar-UMBS Academy, an internationally orientated college that will address the issues of the pensions and insurance world.
Rob Bauer, the director of the new academy, is enthusiastic about the initiative. "It will be a unique combination of a multi-disciplinary approach and interactive lecturing, based on themes. It will be a balanced link between practice and science. Anyone in a leading position on pensions and insurance, who wants to keep up with pensions research and policy, should follow our courses."
His optimism appears justified. A number of companies have signed up to almost 50% of the academy's capacity in advance of the start of the enrolment.
Anticipating the multitude of developments within the pensions and insurance sector, the pension research platform Netspar, set up two years ago, and the Maastricht University Business School have taken the initiative for "stimulating education and knowledge-sharing on the current subjects".
Each year the academy will offer three postgraduate courses with an international emphasis. Every course will have a specific theme for the target groups: managers and policy-makers at pension funds, insurance companies, public sector and supervisory boards on one hand, and professionals from the financial and the public sector on the other.
The theme of the first module will be ‘Fair valuation and pension management' featuring a presentation on pensions fund governance from pensions expert Keith Ambachtsheer. Lans Bovenberg, Netspar's co-director, will also highlight themes on research and education.
Participants will have a say in the subjects of future courses but for the present, Bauer says, there will be modules on life-cycle investing, international comparison of pension systems and solvency risks for insurers and pension funds. Subjects such as the behavioural aspects of the choice of retirement provision and early retirement policies are also on his wish list.
"To begin with we need to find out what the demand is for themes. We will then decide on the scheduling of the subjects. Depending on the interest we might add courses, for example, corporate governance, hedge funds and sustainable investing. And I hope we can also look into research results of Netspar."
The second course in November will focus on annuity markets. There is likely to be an additional event for pension fund governors next year. Three three-days
modules a year will be scheduled from 2008.
Bauer, an expert on institutional investors and an adviser to the board of ABP Investments, the asset manager of the €209bn civil service scheme ABP, says there is nothing comparable to the new academy on pensions worldwide. "There is no post-academic college that specifically targets pensions and insurance and which invites top experts to address practice issues. We endeavour a permanent education on all relevant issues on pensions, ageing and retirement."
The international side of the academy will be important, Bauer emphasises. "We need to get the people with the bright ideas here in the first place. Of course, it would be great if it helps promote the Dutch pension system abroad. But that's not our main aim.
"We will bring together top lecturers and participants from different nationalities and countries to maximise the knowledge exchange and learning by combining the different perspectives. Lecturers will be selected from both the academic and the business world."
One expert who has already been contracted for future courses is Roderick Munsters, chief investment officer of ABP.
Bauer also plans to recruit lecturers from the regulators De Nederlandsche Bank and the Authority Financial Markets. "The supervisors employ a lot of specialists, who often have a secondary occupation as an academic," he says.
Participants can expect an interactive learning experience, says Bauer: "Interactive case-based learning, similar to the Harvard-style cases and in English, is the prime focus of each course. Lecturers will be selected on their interactive qualities.
"In addition, we have developed an interactive platform that will extend the learning experience past the course. Students can keep up with the latest news, research and other information on pensions and insurance."
auer has few worries about the popularity of the course. "Although enrolment actually opens on 15 February, two companies have already announced that they each want to send several participants," he says.
"I expect at least 30 participants for each module. To keep the interactive lecturing workable, the maximum will be 45 students. Our initial aim is to attract at least 10 of these people from abroad. Within two years, we hope to have achieved a 50:50 ratio of students and lecturers."
The courses will not be confined to Maastricht, in the south of the Netherlands, Bauer says: "We can offer courses anywhere. We could do classes in Amsterdam, Tilburg or even in Paris if necessary. At the moment, we are considering a course at Zurich ETH University."
Bauer says the fact that the academy is under the aegis of Maastricht University provides a guarantee of the quality of its courses.
"Netspar and its partners will also be monitoring our quality via a sounding board. If our quality is not up to scratch, they won't extend their contract with us."
After completion of the course, and a demonstrated participation in the interactive case studies, the participants will receive a certificate of attendance. "The course is rather a permanent tutorial than a full education. A master's degree requires at least one day a week for lectures, work experience and special papers," Bauer says.
"However, all programmes of Maastricht University apply to the EU-accredited AACSB and EQUIS quality labels for management education."
The attendance fee for the modules has been set at €3,000, which includes books, course materials and meals. Special rates exist for Netspar's partners.
Bauer is looking beyond the Netherlands for participants. "I'd like to lift the pension discussions and education to a higher level, and the greatest challenge to me personally, is to attract sufficient participation from abroad," he says.
"I hope there will be students from eastern European countries who are facing the challenge of getting their systems onto the rails. The same goes for southern Europe.
"The pensions savings in a country like Italy, which has a much larger population, are merely a fraction of the pensions assets in the Netherlands."
Civil servants from the European Union and members of the European Parliament will also be welcome, Bauer says. "Much of the future pensions legislation will be developed in Brussels.
"We are already considering setting up a course specifically aimed at MEPs within the next two years."