BPP sale set to test appetite for for-profit investment

Preparations for sale by Apollo Education Group are under way, THE understands, two years after owner changed hands

June 19, 2019

The US owners of BPP University have begun moves to sell the institution, Times Higher Education understands, launching a process that will be seen as a litmus test for for-profit higher education in England.

Since 2010, BPP – which offers courses in fields including law, accountancy, financial services and nursing – has been owned by Apollo Education Group, the owner of major US for-profit the University of Phoenix.

In 2017, Apollo Education Group was bought by two US private equity firms, Vistria Group and Apollo Global Management, for $1.1 billion (£899 million at the time).

Under its new ownership, Apollo Education Group is preparing to sell BPP, sources told Times Higher Education. Morgan Stanley has been appointed to handle the process and is putting together the documentation required to go out to the market, they suggested.

The University of Phoenix was the key prize in the sale of Apollo Education Group, and selling off international assets such as BPP was always part of the plan for Apollo’s new owners, it is said.

Some suggest that preparations to sell BPP are a sign that it has recovered profitability. BPP is heavily involved in degree apprenticeships, and the lifting of uncertainty around income flows from the apprenticeship levy is seen as a factor in its brighter prospects.

Figures involved with the for-profit sector expect a number of potential buyers to come forward, with the capacity of BPP to expand into the continental European market seen as one potential attraction.

The Maersk family foundation, which controls the Maersk shipping giant, is said to be considering potential investments in education, including for-profit higher education. But there is no indication that it would be among the potential bidders for BPP.

Any change in BPP’s ownership could trigger a review by the English sector regulator. Under the regulatory framework enforced by the Office for Students, a change of ownership for a provider is a “reportable event”. If a provider with degree-awarding powers is sold, the OfS “will consider whether a review of DAPs is necessary” and “will determine whether the provider still meets the DAPs criteria”.

BPP successfully passed through such a review by the Department for Education when Apollo Education Group changed hands.

BPP was bought by Apollo in 2010 for £368 million.

Of England’s other for-profit universities, Arden University was bought by Global University Systems in 2016 for an undisclosed price. And the University of Law was bought by GUS in 2015, again for an undisclosed price.

The University of Law went for-profit in 2012, when it was bought by Montagu Private Equity for £200 million.

In 2017, THE reported that BPP was owned by Apollo Education Group in the Netherlands. Apollo said that it did not gain any tax advantage through Dutch ownership of the institution.


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