Canadian company ApplyBoard is synonymous with the education agent aggregator business model. Founded in 2015, ApplyBoard has grown quickly – fueled by over US$450m in venture capital – to become one of the largest education agent aggregators in the business.
Success as an education agent aggregator requires a company to build and effectively link a two sided market: on the one hand educational institutions seeking to recruit international students, and on the other, education agents (aka sub-agents) seeking a portfolio of educational institutions at which to place the prospective international students that come to them for advice and assistance. ApplyBoard has done this very successfully, claiming over 1500 ‘partner institutions’, and building an army of sub-agents (ApplyBoard uses the term ‘Recruitment Partners’) from 1,500 in late 2019 to over 10,000 in mid-2023.
A significant change occurred in late 2023 or early 2024 when the number of Recruitment Partners stated on the ApplyBoard website decreased from ‘10,000+’ to ‘6,500+’, a drop of approximately 3,500, or 35%.
In response to AgentBee’s questions about the timing and reasons for the decrease, a ApplyBoard spokesperson said:
The change from 10,000 to 6,500 reflects a shift that has been taken over approximately the past two years, not six months. ApplyBoard regularly sets minimum application and other standards with our recruitment partners to ensure our ongoing relationship is strong and fruitful.
This change is a natural shift in business operations as our processes and partnerships evolve, and our overall goals as an organization dedicated to helping students and our partner institutions.
As recently as 15 December 2023, ApplyBoard stated in its ‘Year in Review 2023’ that it had “more than 10,000 recruitment partners in our global network.”
The steep reduction in Recruitment Partner numbers pre-dates the decision by the Canadian Government in January 2024 to cap international numbers for two years.
The ApplyBoard ‘Blocklist’
In September 2023, ApplyBoard published a public ‘blocklist’ of “recruitment agents who are either no longer part of the ApplyBoard network and/or have been pre-emptively blocked from accessing the platform due to known infractions that were published publicly and/or submitted by a partner institution.” Despite ApplyBoard cutting 3,500 sub-agents, there appears to be no material change in the Blocklist since it was first published. At that time the list contained the details of 45 education agencies. In January 2024 it contained the details of 42 education agencies. In response to a question about the link between the decrease in Recruitment Partners and the Blocklist, a ApplyBoard spokesperson said:
The RP Blocklist is made up of those RPs that have been blocked from accessing the ApplyBoard platform due to malfeasance that would violate our Terms and Conditions that would meet our standards to block them from the platform, and also includes those agents who have never had access to the ApplyBoard platform but have been credibly reported in the media as to have shown unethical recruitment practices that would meet our standards for blocking.
The decrease in our recruitment partner numbers and the blocklist are not related. Some RPs no longer are in the business and some we have simply parted ways with. This does not mean any of them have violated our Terms and Conditions or our ethical standards that would result in the RP being blocked from accessing the platform.
A pattern emerges
The drop in sub-agent numbers reported by ApplyBoard mirrors a pattern seen for the first time in the first half of 2023. Between January and July 2023, two other large education aggregators, Shorelight and KC Overseas, made changes to their websites which reflected very significant reductions in the size of their sub-agent networks, following earlier periods of rapid growth. Shorelight dropped more than 50% from 7,000 to 3,000 sub-agents, and KC Overseas dropped 66% from 9,000 to 3,000 sub-agents. As at January 2024, the KC Overseas website stated that it has “3,500+ active recruitment partners”, an increase of 500 sub-agents over six months.
Degrees of transparency
It is important to note that the analysis above is only possible because ApplyBoard makes public some information about its sub-agent/Recruitment Partner network, and its approach to due diligence on those agents. Not all education agent aggregators do the same. Some do not even make public the number of sub-agents in their network.
If your institution is working with an education agent aggregator, it is important to ensure that you have visibility of how it manages its sub-agent network, including its sub-agent recruitment and quality control processes. For more information, check out our post:
And the winner is…
Even before reducing the number of its Recruitment Partners, ApplyBoard did not have the biggest sub-agent network among agent aggregators. Instead that title goes to LCI Group, which states on its website that it has “a Global Network of 15,000+ Recruitment Partners”. That puts its sub-agent network at almost twice the size of that of Adventus.io, which is now in the number two position with “8,000+” agents.
The chart below shows the size of the sub-agent networks of a number of education agent aggregators, based on the data on their websites.
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