The largest provider of international students to Britain’s higher education institutions is preparing to kick off a £700m sale amid uncertainty about Brexit’s impact on UK immigration restrictions.
Sky News has learnt that the controlling shareholder in Study Group, which is headquartered in London, has hired bankers at Morgan Stanley and Rothschild to oversee an auction of the company.
Study Group works with UK universities including Durham, Huddersfield, Lancaster and Strathclyde to prepare international students for the British higher education system.
It also owns Bellerbys College, a multi-site institution which offers pathway courses into universities.
The tertiary education provider has been owned by Providence Equity Partners since July 2010, when it changed hands for AUS$660m (£402m).
According to the latest accounts filed at Companies House, Study Group recorded revenue in 2015 of £307m, and a 12% rise in adjusted profits to £42.4m.
The London-based company said that in total, it had helped to place 70,000 students from more than 160 countries last year across its operations in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand.
The timing of the sale is intriguing, given the chronic uncertainty which surrounds the ability of overseas students to study and remain in the UK after Brexit.
Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, attempted to defuse mounting criticism of the Government’s approach to immigration in an article for the Financial Times.
“Over the past year I have heard first-hand from business leaders and employers across a range of sectors how they value European citizens for labour, skills and ideas,” she wrote.
“I want to reassure all those who have outlined their views, either privately or publicly, that the Government is listening and that we share their desire to continue to welcome those who help make the UK such a prosperous place to live.”
But Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, criticised ministers’ continued focus on reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands – a target it has repeatedly missed.
“The case of overseas students illustrates the absurdity of the target and the malign consequences of it,” Sir Vince wrote in an article for The Independent’s website.
“The vast majority of students return home – apart from a few who have special skills and are recruited for post-study work, and some others who illegally overstay.
“There was undoubtedly some abuse and some bogus colleges, but on the assumption that enormous numbers of students were here illegally and that universities and colleges were complicit in these scams, the Home Office cracked down on overseas students in general.”
People close to Study Group played down the impact of Brexit-related uncertainty on its business, pointing to its geographical diversity as a hedge against potential rule changes in any individual market.
Providence could not be reached for comment on Thursday.