February 26, 2019 / 6:13 AM / 9 months ago

Education First considers partial sale in China business: sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global private language tutor Education First (EF) is considering selling a part of its China business which could value the unit at over $2 billion, people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

The company, privately held by founder Bertil Hult’s family, has tapped JPMorgan Chase & Co to work on the potential sale, the people said, cautioning however EF is still weighing which part of the China business to sell and that a process has yet to start. JPMorgan declined to comment.

EF opened its first school in Shanghai in 1993 and now has teaching centers in over 50 cities in China, offering language courses for children of all age groups and adults as well as study tours, its website says.

One of the people close to the company said EF is looking for a private equity investor in its children’s business in China only and should be rolling out the stake in about three months.

EF did not respond to a request for comment. The people declined to be named as the information is confidential.

The sale will likely attract interest from private equity firms, the people said, as education assets are usually cash-rich with stable income from prepaid tuitions and other fees.

Last year, Chinese investors spent $7.8 billion on 64 education deals at home and overseas, up from $2.2 billion in 2017, according to Refinitiv data.

China’s overall private education market was worth about $260 billion last year, according to a June note from LEK Consulting, and is growing at around 9 percent a year in the next two years.

The country makes up a big portion of EF’s global revenue, with the bulk coming from children’s language learning programs, according to two of the people familiar with the company.

Founded in Lund, Sweden in 1965, EF features language travel programs and now has 612 schools in 114 countries or regions, according to its website. It also runs boarding schools and business schools in the United States and Britain.

The company, now headquartered in Lucerne, Switzerland, also boasts sponsorship deals with a number of sports tournaments, including the Olympic Games and a professional cycling team.

Reporting by Kane Wu and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes in Hong Kong and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; Editing by Stephen Coates

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