Monday 18 December 2017

Independent Colleges invest in growing language sector

A €1.6m deal to buy a language school shows how education is big business, writes Nick Webb

There is a massive opportunity to grow in the expanding English language education sector, according to Larry Finnegan of International House Dublin.

However, the private college sector is made up of more than 60 operators -- mostly small "mom and pop" establishments. A major consolidation is expected in the sector in the coming years. The process has already started.

Last week, Independent Colleges inked a €1.6m deal to buy IHD from principal shareholders Larry Finnegan, Karen Nolan and Irish private equity group Kish capital. The management will remain at IHD to help develop the business with Independent Colleges. IHD has more than 4,000 students from around the world attending its courses each year, with the numbers growing by 15 per cent a year.

While other businesses are struggling, the private education sector is one of the few in expansion mode. "Education is like death and double-glazing," said Independent Colleges chief executive Garret Doyle. Independent Colleges, owned by INM, has also seen its numbers increase over the last three years despite the recession.

Moves to standardise the private education sector and to weed out "cowboy" operators are well under way with a "Q Mark" for reputable and well-run colleges likely to provide major impetus to marketing Ireland as an educational destination abroad. Kish capital's Dan Ennis said that the private equity group became minority shareholders in the business around two years ago as it saw the education space as having massive potential for growth.

"People will come to Ireland because it has a good reputation for education and because it is seen as safe," said Ennis.

Education is now one of the fastest growing industries in the world, as millions of students in emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil seek to upskill. Major global players such as Pearson and Kaplan have generated vast profits out of the industry, with Kaplan's education business now generating more income for its owners the Washington Post Company than its newspaper division.

The Government has made attracting more foreign students to learn in Ireland as one of its key education strategies. Currently around 30,000 foreign students come to Ireland each year to learn English. A doubling of that number is being targeted by both state and private sector stakeholders.

Last week's buyout -- one of the few deals in an otherwise quiet corporate market -- will see IHD move into Independent Colleges' campus on Dublin's Dawson Street. "International House Dublin is the leading English as a foreign language school in Ireland with the best teachers, best facilities and now the best location in the city," said Finnegan. A new modern languages focus is part of the business strategy ahead, said IHD's Karen Nolan.

Sunday Indo Business

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