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Stakeholders express concern over agent aggregators

Agent aggregators are drawing attention as they step up messaging in the market – some stakeholders are suggesting they could pose a risk to universities as they try to re-establish global student flows post-pandemic. 

Photo: BUILA/ UKCISA

"Over half of the respondents said they are concerned about their lack of direct control over sub-agents"

In an opinion piece in University World News, founder of Asia Careers Group SDN BHD, Louise Nicol said that while the “lure of the aggregator argument is seductive, it is unlikely to be as benevolent as it seems to any of the parties involved”. 

“Widespread use of agent aggregators could lead to a deterioration in the quality of advice provided”

She argued that the agent-student-university relationship is an ecosystem which has taken time to develop and where good service encourages repeat business. 

“Breaking that link with a system where a touch of a button allows numerous applications for a single candidate brings a number of downsides,” she said. 

“The rise of agent aggregators encourages agents to focus on multiple countries for their student applicants, but this may not be as desirable as it sounds. 

“The idea of agents is that they are market experts, know their client institutions inside out and can effectively advise students, but widespread use of agent aggregators could lead to a deterioration in the quality of advice provided,” she added. 

Nicol nodded to the initiative from Ryan Trainor, CEO and co-founder of Adventus.io, posted on his LinkedIn. Trainor’s post said that for the month of April 2021, Adventus will give US$100 for every five students “lodged to an institution in Canada or the USA” with a guarantee that the application will be placed within 24 hours. 

“Universities should also be aware that their brands are being used to secure traffic for the agent aggregators”

She argued that students deserve to know when their details are being shared with “numerous higher education institutions and an extensive network of agents”.

“Universities should also be aware that their brands are being used to secure traffic for the agent aggregators, both in terms of student engagement and growing their network of agents. One can only hope everyone is entering into these partnerships with their ‘eyes wide open’,” she said. 

In a forthcoming article in The PIE Review, other agents have expressed concerns about the quality of applications which are being encouraged at scale.

But Trainor explained to The PIE News that the initiative was conceived as a way to support agents who have suffered financially as a result of Covid-19. 

“They’re our business partners and may not have been able to access revenue for nearly 12 months, and it could be actually longer. And a lot of these agents are going out of business. 

“As we are getting a 91% success rate of application offer from universities, it was almost like, how do we provide a stimulus for our agents and try and work with them to ensure that they’ve still got a livelihood once the market comes back?” 

Writing in The PIE, Kim Morrisson of Grok Global Services advocates “information symmetry, visibility and optionality” being front of mind for universities when entering new partnerships.

Concerns around sub-agents 

A recent report from BUILA and UKCISA explored UK HEs concerns towards the use of sub-agents. While the report did not mention aggregators specifically, its findings could be seen as relevant to those digital recruitment platforms that use sub-agents. 

It found that most HEIs (61%) agree to the use of sub-agents if the contracted agent has HEI consent. However, over half of the respondents said they are concerned about their lack of direct control over sub-agents.

This have been an “area of concern” for HEIs for some time (in the UK and overseas), the report noted, and has led some HEIs to stipulate in their education agent contracts that sub-agents are not permitted and their use would be in violation of the contract, or that sub-agents may be permitted by written agreement with the HEI. 

Source: BUILA/ UKCISA

 

According to the report, HEI staff worry that the sub-agent, who may not have been through the HEI’s agent training, could misrepresent them to the student and the quality of services may be substandard. 

“There is also concern that the student may be unaware that the education agent representing them to the HEIs might not be ‘official’ and that the student may be paying for services unnecessarily,” the report said. 

Nicol spoke about the report in relation to large student recruitment aggregators.

She noted that Edified was commissioned prior to the “meteoric rise of the aggregators”, but provides “a strong foundation for thinking about this development in the global higher education landscape”.

To read more on this topic, watch out for the next issue of The PIE Review or click here to be emailed when it is live.

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