Back to school: private equity’s busy year in education

Dealmakers were busy in a range of sub-sectors within education, from fashion to software.

Clearlake Capital-backed Discovery Education’s recent purchase of DoodleLearning is the latest of a string of education-related deals in Europe this year. With students returning or shortly set to return to schools, colleges and universities across the continent, PE Hub Europe rounded up all the coverage so far in 2022.

Discovery Education strengthened its UK presence in mid-August by picking up DoodleLearning, a firm based in Bath.

DoodleLearning creates personalised experiences for students via four products supporting learning in maths and English. Its products have been used by over 1 million children in the UK and around the world.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Discovery Education is a worldwide educational platform. DoodleLearning was Discovery Education’s fourth acquisition since 2019, following the purchase of Mystery Science in October 2020, Spiral in July 2020 and InsPyro in August 2019.

“Discovery Education is dedicated to creating a best-in-class edtech ecosystem that supports our mission to prepare today’s students for future success,” said Discovery Education CEO Scott Kinney. “This acquisition is an important milestone in that effort, and we look forward to both partnering with the talented DoodleLearning team and scaling the reach of their innovative, adaptive Math and English Language Arts products.”

Clearlake Capital is a Santa Monica, California-headquartered investment firm.

Geneva-based Gyrus Capital made a more niche education play in early July by purchasing Consulcesi Group alongside the firm’s founders and management.

Consulcesi, based in Balerna, Switzerland, is a provider of continuous medical education, legal services, data analytics and digital marketing to the healthcare industry.

“We like it because it’s entrepreneur-built, owned and led,” Gyrus partner Guy Semmens told PE Hub Europe at the time. “We like it because the medical profession is resilient – it’s not exposed to the ups and downs of the consumer world. We like it because there is a digital transformation going on. You can get a higher quality product to more people at a low cost.

Also in early July, Souter Investments and Averna Capital teamed up to make an investment in student recruitment company SI-UK, which sources international students for higher education institutions in the UK. SI-UK guides students throughout the university application and selection process via a network of 80 offices across 40 countries.

“It is great to be able to partner again with Averna Capital and invest in another exciting, fast-growing and market-leading international business,” said John Berthinussen, managing director at Souter Investments.

“We are delighted to partner with SI-UK during its next phase of growth,” said Averna’s Stephen Green. “The business offers an indispensable bridge between universities and students, and we are impressed with the company’s international footprint built across multiple source markets.”

C’est chic

Also focusing on a specific niche in education, Oakley Capital-backed ACE Education Group bought French fashion business and styling school EIDM in mid-May.

Based in Paris, EIDM offers students a range of specialised programmes from bachelor’s to master’s, as well as recognised professional diplomas.

Looking more broadly, in early May, Stonepeak made a €1 billion investment in London-based Inspired Education Group.

Inspired is an international provider of private schools with over 55,000 students across a group of more than 70 schools in 20 countries.

On the software side of education, Paragin, which is backed by Main Capital Partners, acquired SOWISO, a mathematics software specialist, in late March.

The Amsterdam-based SOWISO offers standardised online admissions tests called Online Mathematics Placement Tests (OMPTs) that students can use to demonstrate their math proficiency to colleges and universities across the world.

Paragin is an education software company based in Nijkerk in the Netherlands.

The combination of Paragin and SOWISO was the first add-on acquisition for the buy-and-build strategy of the educational technology (EdTech) group since Paragin started its collaboration with Main in 2021.

This year got off to an early start on the educational deal front, when Times Higher Education (THE) in early January acquired Insider Higher Ed, a US-based provider of analysis and solutions for universities and colleges.

London-based THE is backed by Inflexion Private Equity.

Sell side

The year also saw an exit in late May, when Quilvest Capital Partners and IK Partners agreed to sell their respective stakes in French higher education company Groupe EDH to Five Arrows Principal Investments.

GEDH is a provider in the private higher education sector in France, delivering certified graduate programmes and specialised MBAs across communication, artistic and cultural management, journalism, design, cinema and digital arts.

Not every deal this year was a success, however. In early March, UK education publisher Pearson was reported to have rejected a $8.5 billion takeover offer from Apollo, saying that the firm had been “undervalued”.