The UK’s KSI Education, which is bankrolled by a Chinese investment firm, has acquired Heathfield Knoll independent school and First Steps Day Nursery in Worcestershire.

China First Capital-backed KSI now owns two private schools in the UK, including Kingsley School in Bideford. Listed in Hong Kong, China First Capital is a boutique investment bank and advisory firm.

Founded 400 years ago, Heathfield School in 2017 merged with The Knoll School to become the institution it is today. Heathfield Knoll is non-selective and has capacity for 250 students.

Accounts filed with Companies House show that the school last year had total funds of £1.2 million, down from £1.3 million a year prior. Heathfield Knoll was formerly owned by a charitable trust. The sale of the school was brokered by property advisor Christie & Co.

The purchase of Heathfield Knoll and First Steps is the latest link in a chain of recent deals that have seen Chinese investors scoop up British education businesses amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, a consortium of Chinese investors bought an ailing boarding school in Staffordshire, and earlier this month China Education Group acquired a cash-strapped private university.

Recent transactions involving mainland investors have raised moral questions around whether China-based organisations should be allowed to buy businesses in the UK and Europe amid a global economic crisis stemming from a virus that began life in China.

As reports suggest that Beijing is on a buying spree, collecting cut-price Western businesses that have been crippled by the coronavirus outbreak, the European Union has in recent weeks moved to tighten rules around foreign direct investment to prevent so-called bargain-hunting in certain industries. 

Date published: 28 April 2020

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