Don't waste this crisis

Some providers are going to cling on to the old ways, whilst others will adapt and thrive



Most approaches we’ve received in 2024 from a university or college recruitment director, PVC, or CEO followed this pattern:

  • they're unable to capture the load they need as the relative market shrinks; 
  • they’re all paying more for what they are getting; 
  • they’ve tried seemingly every tactic;
  • staff are often stressed and under some pressure from senior leadership to produce more enrolments.  

Like most providers their recruitment machines are built around traditional agent contracting and their tried-and-trusted supply lines. And now these supply lines are becoming less stable as other institutions steal share and previously reliable student supply shifts to friendlier markets.

It is now plainly apparent that this dynamic (passive agent supply via siloed, static contracting) is not sufficient. It worked 'okay' in the boom years with no artificial supply constraints, like government visa throttling. But when an institution is >30% down on load target, as many are, it cannot rely on its hundred or two hundred procurement partners - that are also working for thousands of its competitors - to get it out of trouble on a promise. 

A more certain way of capturing a slice of the market is needed.


Institution recruiters & senior leaders might pose this question: 

“How are traditional agent contracts working out for my org right now, in these market conditions?“

One litmus test is how your agent tail has stepped up, or not, to your assistance. If you still have 50%-80% of your partners doing little for you, there’s your answer, because they aren’t doing little for some of your competitors. This is not the agents’ fault, it’s the system & rules in which individual institutions choose to operate.

More than a few UK institutions’ 22-23 financial statements show they succeeded only due to PG international numbers - and we saw what happened in January with this cohort. Some rely on tuition fees for ~75% of total revenues, with no room for domestic fees to offset this year’s challenges. Stark also was the large uplift in agent commissions for many last cycle, with some highly-ranked institutions now paying around the 20% mark as standard. The question ‘when did we all convince ourselves this was reasonable?’ bears repeating and should be discussed at several universities’ exec meetings.


The only thing that can stop an institution from changing are the people in it

From what we’ve observed, there are several stages of acceptance to navigate before pivoting from the way ingrained in us all:

  1. The quality of an institution's agent relationships can’t really help it today (not significantly, anyway); it’s the place where so much focus and spend has gone for years so it's tempting to double-down, yet it's of limited utility in the face of some of these challenges and despite the sincere and significant efforts of many agents. If a provider has a very large agent pool it might be contracted to about 0.3% - 0.5% of the world’s total agents, yet having amazing relationships with these isn’t going to get it to the remainder of the market that can populate its classrooms. Providers need a way to marketise in a way they control.

  2. Failure to innovate will make outcomes worse; there’s zero to be gained from staying the course and hunkering down. I’m normally a fan of collaborating with competitors and going to market in concert, but I would not be waiting to follow the crowd and would be increasing my risk and innovation quotients urgently, ideally with exec approval. The maths - fewer enrolling students for the same number of hungry institutions - makes it look like dog eat dog for some in the short-medium term. 

  3. The usual pace of change won’t cut it; anyone who has worked for an institution of any size will find 6 or 12 month processes the norm when it comes to strategy changes. I’d be seeking to make quick decisions right now and begging forgiveness later. Not everyone needs their say in all matters and sometimes committee decision-making is a bad idea, and especially when you’re the SMEs and the rest aren’t.

  4. This is business and that means hard decisions; too often over the years I’ve heard providers talk of loyalty to agents as if this procurement partner is to be treated with kid-gloves. Northumbria University presumably feels loyal to the staff it will need to lose due to its projected recruitment income shortfall. And Coventry. And Massey. And UVic. And Waikato. Which hard decision would university leaders prefer to make? 


Is not innovating an option?

Yes for a tiny number of global providers. In all probability yours isn't one of them.  

Our platform lets providers capture more of the market, lock agents into actively sourcing (in return for financial terms that incentivise this), and pre-secure load for future intakes. All things institutions cannot do at scale today. Simply working with the agent tail can bring immediate benefits (n.b. few can afford a long agent tail today), and there are eleven other use-cases, including: niche course recruitment, diversification, and cost of sales reduction.

We don't claim to be a silver bullet, but what does your 2025 look like if you don’t challenge the status quo?


Similar posts

Subscribe to our blog content

We'll notify you when new content is published.