In the dark and out of control: new priorities for recruitment management

Published 16/04/2021

Families are becoming more informed consumers of education. This simple trend has knock on effects for agencies, institutions and our industry as a whole.

These days, more and more families walk through the agency door with their choices set, wanting the agent to help with apps and visas. As a result, the role of agents is gradually shifting from generating demand to fulfilment. As agencies counsel less, the need for deep institutional relationships diminishes in favour of having many commissionable university relationships.

This has given rise to agency aggregation platforms, which offer agencies (especially newer and smaller agents) a broad portfolio of institutions and expedited commission processing.

“For the foreseeable future, agency relationships continue to be key”

If you are responsible for your university’s recruitment, this impacts you, because as agents generate less demand, the onus is shifting to you to directly reach and influence families through international marketing, or by cultivating upstream relationships, e.g. high schools.

Regardless, for the foreseeable future, agency relationships continue to be key and some institutions are evaluating whether an aggregator can give them instant access to a broad channel. It is a promising option – especially for newcomers to international recruitment.

If you are one of those institutions, there are a few questions that you should ask – and here is where the new vocabulary for international recruitment comes in.

Information Asymmetry

(Occurs in an economic transaction when one party knows more than the other about a key facet of the market.)

Deploying in-country recruiters can help grow enrolments because they enable you to directly manage your own network of agency partners. Your in-country staff can intensively train and support your agency partners, and monitor what is said and done on your institution’s behalf. Working with an aggregator can change this.

Some aggregators, fearing disintermediation, will hide from you which agencies are recruiting for you. This disconnection matters a lot – it obscures the interaction between your institution and the market and interferes with your control of the student experience and the integrity of the recruitment process.

If you are evaluating working with an agency aggregator, you should ask the following questions: “Will I know who is recruiting on my behalf? Will I be able to ensure that those agencies are competent in representing my institution to students? What are the hazards for an agency if they misrepresent my institution or send false information through the aggregation platform, and will I be able to bar those specific agents from representing my institution in the future?”


(Refers to the extent to which you know in detail how a market is responding to your institution.)

Your job is to optimise results over time, and to do that you need detailed feedback from the market on such things as reputation and its trajectory, the quality of your support to partners, admissions requirements and alignment to market norms, digital traction, messaging and its match to local criteria, and staff skills related to presentation and sales – all benchmarked against competitors over time. At Grok, we consider this so important that we now build it in to our service offering for clients.

Agency aggregation can interfere with collecting even the most basic data from the market, since specific recruitment partners may be obscured and there is no way to get feedback. On the other hand, some aggregators may provide access to new sources of information and insights helpful to your decision making.

If you are evaluating working with an agency aggregator, you should ask the following questions: “What will I know about how the market is responding to my university – what data will I have? Will I know which recruitment partners are productive? Will I know what regions my applications are coming from? Will I be able to reach past the aggregator to engage with those recruitment partners to get their feedback? What other data can the aggregator give me to help me manage my investments?”


(Refers to the breadth of options available to you to respond when something unexpected happens.)

The beginning of a new collaboration is always filled with optimism and strong intentions, but you should always plan to protect against the downside. In particular, you should be wary of arrangements that require you to abandon your own international relationships and presence, because this leaves you powerless in the long run. Similarly, you should be careful about arrangements that cannot be ended gracefully in a reasonable timeframe.

In a rapidly changing world, optionality can have life or death consequences. Recognising this, a few years ago, Grok enabled its clients to shift their staffing investments from one geographic region to another, or from one service line to another (e.g. from marketing to market diversification) with minimal fuss.

If you are evaluating working with an agency aggregator, you should ask the following questions: “Does this aggregator’s approach create “single point of failure” risk for my institution? How do I end this relationship if it does not work? In two years, if I work with this aggregator, will my university be more sophisticated or less sophisticated internationally? Is there a mechanism that prevents the aggregator from re-negotiating our deal in the future? Is this aggregator flexible to my needs – can we work with them in some geographies, for some programs, or some levels – and can that arrangement change if needed?”


Some aggregators may seek to bind you to their platform through measures that involve obscuring key data or eliminating your optionality. This is not necessary. The aggregators’ value proposition should inherently be sufficiently appealing and “sticky”.

“With the proper trust framework, agency aggregators’ value proposition can be so much more than basic access to the agency channel”

In fact, with the proper trust framework, agency aggregators’ value proposition can be so much more than basic access to the agency channel. By being more open, by providing visibility and optionality, agency aggregators can allow an institution’s international office to manage tactics and optimise resourcing, which ultimately will drive more traffic through the platform. Another important benefit to the aggregators is that a key demographic of institution – the best ranked universities and the most sophisticated international operators – will be leery of joining any aggregator platform that impedes their ability to control their own outcomes.

If you are working for a university, then information symmetry, visibility and optionality should be high on your list of priorities if you are evaluating any partner in international education. You should think twice about any partner who believes that – to retain your university long run – they have to keep you in the dark and out of control.

About the Author

Kim Morrison is the founder and CEO of Grok Global Services. Kim has a background of strategic marketing, channel sales, and HR, and brings perspectives from more than a decade in progressively senior leadership roles in the high-tech industry. Since 2005, Grok Global has helped institutions to improve recruitment outcomes through best practices and data, manage international operations, build brand, and develop partnerships in global markets. Grok Global’s span of clientele and the depth of collaboration gives a perspective on best practices and market conditions that give institutions the visibility to direct their international recruitment strategy.

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