Oxford Sixth Form College

Bowmark Capital has exited Oxford International Education Group, carving out its private schools division in a sale to Nord Anglia while offloading its pathways business to THI Investments.

Nord Anglia has acquired three independent day and boarding schools – Oxford International College, d’Overbroeck’s, and Oxford Sixth Form College – as well as Bucksmore, a provider of short courses for students aged 10-18 in the UK, US and online.

European private equity firm THI Investments, which in November acquired apprenticeship provider Corndel, has bankrolled a management buyout of Oxford International’s pathways, online learning and language-training business, led by chief executive Lil Bremermann-Richard.

This publication understands that DC Advisory advised Bowmark Capital on its exit from Oxford International, in which the mid-market buyout group had held a controlling stake since 2014.

The terms of the two-pronged transaction, which was executed off-market, were not disclosed.

The deal marks a return to Nord Anglia’s roots in the UK, where it was founded in 1972 and headquartered until 2012, when the organisation moved its head office to Hong Kong amid a shift in focus to the international schools sector.

“With three new schools in the UK, it’s another exciting chapter in Nord Anglia’s global story following our acquisition of Eton School in Mexico earlier this month. We look forward to supporting these schools in their continuous expansion and continue to assess opportunities where schools want to become part of the Nord Anglia family,” said Philippe Lagger, chief corporate development officer.

Following the deal, Nord Anglia, which is backed by Baring Private Equity Asia and a Canadian pension fund, operates 73 schools in 30 countries. Earlier this month, the group acquired Eton School in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, THI Investments has acquired a controlling stake in the slimmed-down Oxford International business, which no longer encompasses UK private schools but includes an online-learning unit launched last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, which challenged the company’s traditional brick-and-mortar delivery model.

THI Investments in a statement said it will invest “in new technology, products, services and complementary acquisitions to reach and enrich a growing global base of learners”.

Oxford International will join THI Investment’s portfolio of education companies, which includes Corndel and Learnship, a US- and Germany-based online English-language training provider.

Edmund Buckley, managing director at THI Investments, commented: “This is an exciting time to be investing in education, an industry going through dynamic change and one which we know very well. Oxford International is an exceptional business with an attractive portfolio of online, hybrid and campus-based courses and numerous levers for growth.

“We look forward to working with Lil and her team, leveraging our financial, operational and industry expertise to grow the business, providing current and new partners with outstanding service and attracting students from around the world with high-quality educational opportunities.”

Bremermann-Richard added: “We are excited about the future for both parts of our business following the transactions with THI and Nord Anglia. I am proud of what our schools and colleges team have achieved, and I am confident they will continue to thrive with Nord Anglia’s guidance. I would also like to thank Bowmark for all their support over the past seven years during which time our revenues have more than doubled and profitability has tripled.

“Our future with THI is full of opportunities, with investment accelerating our growth and strategic plan. THI is a great fit and will enable us to expand our offering and continue to deliver the exceptional services that our partners and students know and trust.”

THI Investments was advised by Lincoln International (M&A), Weil, Gotshal and Manges (legal), Deloitte (financial and tax due diligence), EY-Parthenon (commercial due diligence) and Willis (insurance) on the transaction.

Simon Adcock, partner, Bowmark Capital, commented: “We have thoroughly enjoyed working with Lil, chairman Chris Spanoudakis, and the rest of the management team during a period of significant investment, transformational change and sustained growth for Oxford International.  We wish both businesses and their management teams every success in the future under their new owners.”

In the year ended 31 August 2019, the period for which financials are most recently available, Oxford International Education Group logged turnover of £91 million, up 24% year-over-year, and gross profit of £32 million, a 35% increase from the year prior.

However, these figures were recorded pre-coronavirus.

In its strategic 2019 strategic report, Oxford International Education Group stated that it had “experienced a significant but temporary impact on seasonal revenue in its language business, and a lesser impact on its school and colleges and university partnerships related revenues” as a result of Covid-19.

The directors said that “the group expects revenue in 2019/20 to decrease on 2018/19 as a result of Covid-19”, adding that “given the significant challenges… the group expects to deliver an operating loss in 2019/20 after significant one-off costs”.

The strategic report also reveals that Oxford International Education Group, under Bowmark Capital’s ownership, decided to wind down its academic tours business, Studytrips, in May last year.

“This decision was taken as a direct result of the impact of Covid-19 on the tours business,” it said.

Date published: 16 March 2021

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