Pearson Plans to Acquire English-Language Schools in Brazil

Associate Editor

In a move that expands its presence in Brazil, Pearson, a worldwide education company, has agreed to acquire Grupo Multi, an English-language-training company, for the equivalent of $720 million in cash and $106 million in debt.

Grupo Multi serves more than 800,000 adult students across more than 2,600 franchised private language schools in Brazil. The acquisition builds on Pearson’s K-12 business in the South American country, where about 500,000 students are enrolled in “sistemas” schools that provide an integrated learning system, according to a release.  A sistema incorporates curriculum design, teacher support and training, print and digital content, technology platforms, assessment, and other services.

Pearson’s official announcement of the acquisition indicated that Brazil is one of the world’s largest English language learning markets, with an estimated 2.8 million students enrolled—from children to adults—in English language training. The market’s total value is estimated at nearly $3.3 billion.

Next summer, Brazil will host the World Cup in soccer, and in 2016 the summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro. More Brazilians want to learn English in preparation for these two events, which is driving the emphasis on increasing fluency in the country.

The Grupo Multi acquisition from the Martins family, which holds 78 percent of the company’s shares, and the investment firm Kinea, is expected to close in the first half of 2014. The total $826 million transaction represents the largest for Pearson since its purchase of Harcourt Education from Reed Elsevier Plc in a $950 million deal six years ago, according to a report by Bloomberg.    

The Financial Times, which is also owned by Pearson, reported on the purchase, saying that the acquisition comes “at a time when many multinationals are nervous about Latin America’s biggest economy’s stalling economic growth and interventionist centre-left government.” The publication pointed out that Brazil’s currency has fallen by one-third against British sterling since Pearson made its first deal in the country, the 2010 acquisition of the learning systems arm of Sistema Educacional Brasileiro.

One aspect of the acquisition that played prominently in Pearson’s release about it is the “efficacy review” the company conducted as part of its due diligence process prior to the purchase. About three weeks ago, Pearson announced that it will begin reporting “audited learning outcomes” along with its financials, for its entire education business beginning in 2018. In the case of Multi, that review included a look at the company’s application of evidence and data, its capacity to deliver improved learning outcomes, and other factors.

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