Deep dive into international recruitment – are aggregators worth it?

Aggregators are a frequent component of international student recruitment and work to unite students across the globe with a compatible university course. They may provide various benefits for students and institutions, though there are also significant questions about their effectiveness. This makes it important to assess if these agents are of any real benefit.

Speaking about the aggregator model on ‘Acumen on Air’, international education expert Steve Harvey and host Ananya Bhadauria, discussed its advantages and drawbacks. Using decades of experience in working with these agents, Steve elaborated upon the assurances necessary to guarantee these services are effective for students and institutions alike.

What is an enrollment aggregator?

An enrolment aggregator is a service that aims to incentivise international student enrolment – their main goal is to increase the client institution’s pool of international attendees. The way in which they do this often varies from one aggregator to the next, and a significant amount of their work involves accurately educating possible candidates about the university. Aggregators boast a network of agents and sub-agents that undertake these tasks, though the quality of these agents and their advice can vary.

Enrolment aggregators serve as a central hub for applications acquired by various agents in different countries; they collate these submissions before sending them to the client institution for further processing. Universities want a substantial amount of these applications to become enrolments, and their contract with the aggregator might stipulate payment for the number of students that enroll instead of the number of submissions. This allows institutions to implement quality control over aggregators and ensure they only receive strong applications.

What is the process of hiring an enrollment aggregator?

Throughout the vodcast, Steve discusses the actual process of hiring aggregators – including how to make sure they provide strong services. The initial step for universities looking for an aggregator to boost their worldwide enrolment is to investigate services in countries you’re hoping to attract students from. Reviews from previous clients and other institutions are especially useful in figuring out if they can offer a good ratio of applications to enrolments and help identify the aggregator’s commitment to transparency.

Steve emphasises the importance of transparency and encourages institutions to ask aggregators about their supply chain, stating ‘you wouldn’t buy a house without getting a survey report’. With some aggregators using hundreds (if not thousands) of agents and sub-agents across different continents, it’s important to ask about where their students/applications are actually coming from. Discuss and finalise a contract with conditions for payment; Steve recommends focusing on ‘quality and outcomes’, paying by the number of enrolments instead of applications.

What are the benefits of using an aggregator?

The main benefit of an aggregator service is its ability to optimise the actual international recruitment process, incentivising and collecting student submissions. This improves the university’s overall global reach – allowing them to connect with a much greater range of students from different backgrounds. The aggregator’s agents educate a student on the institution and the advantages of studying there, with the aim of providing accurate information that represents the university in a positive light.

Aggregators are also able to work alongside institutions to determine if applicants are highly committed to the university or would prefer somewhere else. While the bulk of their work revolves around incentivising student submissions, their overarching goal is to increase student enrolments. The pool of students available to agents is also increasing over time, with African countries representing a strong market in recent years. As with nearly any service, Steve states that the benefits you reap depend on the aggregator’s diligence.

What are the pitfalls of enrollment aggregators?

Without this diligence, an enrollment aggregator only offers limited assistance, which might not be enough to justify their services. For example, the education agents can misrepresent a university to inflate application numbers even if they likely won’t translate to enrolments; place stipulations into your contract to protect against this possibility. Steve is primarily concerned about the quality of an aggregator’s supply chain and recommends that institutions ask about agents and sub-agents, including their internal quality control processes.

Another drawback that Steve notes is the pressure to accept students from wealthy families – even though the student’s background may not determine the suitability of their application. He also states that hiring a service is ‘just the beginning of the process’ with the relationship that emerges afterward often being equally vital for both parties. Many aggregators are reluctant to discuss their supply chain, usually because this is commercially sensitive, though this still results in a lack of transparency.

Should your university recruit students by using aggregators?

This is a question without a clear answer and depends heavily upon the exact service you hire and the business relationships you build with them. Throughout the vodcast, Steve highlights the need for transparency at every stage of the process, recommending that institutions only work with aggregators that are open about their use of agents. If an aggregator struggles to address your biggest concerns, continue investigating the other options that are available to you.

An institution takes on a significant amount of risk when working with aggregators and agents; as Steve says, a university’s reputation takes ‘years to build and seconds to lose’. For an institution to stay at the forefront of international education, due diligence needs to be undertaken and further research conducted into the aggregator extensively before committing to a partnership of any kind. As an example, make sure that the aggregator will focus on optimising enrolments rather than simply encouraging applications.

Aggregators are adapting to this need for quality assurance, with comprehensive internal vetting processes via structured onboarding being just one way of them maintaining a strong range of agents. As universities place a focus on profitable enrolments instead of expensive and unsuitable applications, it’s important that aggregators can meet increasing standards. Acumen is an organisation devoted to promoting international education throughout and beyond Asia, helping universities worldwide become competitive global academic networks using targeted marketing efforts. If you would like to learn more about our services, visit and enquire about connecting with us today.