Asian funds in talks to buy Pearson’s English language unit, say sources: Reuters

Two Asian funds are nearing a deal to buy Pearson’s (PSON.L) English-language school business after trumping a rival bid from private equity firm MBK Partners, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Baring Private Equity Asia and Citic Capital Holdings, which made a joint bid to purchase Pearson’s network of 400 language-training centers, have entered exclusive talks for the unit, known as Wall Street English (WSE), the sources said.

The sale is expected to be inked in mid November, valuing WSE at between $350 and $400 million, one of them said.

It comes as the world’s largest education firm is trying to plug record losses and raise cash from shedding non-core units, having previously sold off assets including the Financial Times newspaper and the Economist magazine.

Pearson and Baring declined to comment, while Citic was not immediately available.

Pearson, which provides textbooks, school testing, college courses and online degrees around the world, wants to wrap up the WSE sale to focus on its next deal, the source said.

Earlier this year, the 173-year old group announced a strategic review of its U.S. textbook business which supplies pupils from kindergarten through to 12th grade and is known as K12 courseware.

A sale, which has yet to kick off, is expected to raise another few hundred million dollars for Pearson, which has spent several years trying to restructure to adapt to the growth of digital services. In August, it announced plans to cut 3,000 jobs, its latest round of redundancies, and slashed the dividend.

The WSE auction, led by boutique bank Moelis, has drawn strong interest from Asian funds including North Asia private equity firm MBK which made it to the final stages of the process but lost out to Baring and Citic, the source said.

Pearson acquired Wall Street English China in 2010, and the rest of the network in 2011. The business provides spoken English training for adults in 27 countries.