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PE firm MBK Partners preparing bid for Pearson’s $400 mln English language unit, say sources: Reuters

North Asia private equity firm MBK Partners is preparing a bid to buy language learning business Wall Street English (WSE) from Pearson PLC , the world’s biggest education company, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The sale of WSE, widely expected to be valued at about $400 million, comes after Britain’s Pearson raised $1 billion from the sale of a 22 percent stake in publisher Penguin Random House in July.

Pearson is looking to rebuild its business after reporting a deep loss last year, and the 173-year-old group has sold off its better-known assets including the Financial Times newspaper and Economist magazine to generate cash.

The sale process of WSE is currently in the second round of bidding with a deadline for binding bids next week, two of the people said. A few other private equity firms and strategic investors are also likely to join the bidding, they said.

The $400 million value of WSE represents 15 to 20 times the unit’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), one of the people said.

The people spoke to Reuters and Basis Point, a Thomson Reuters publication. They declined to be identified as details of the sale are not public. Pearson declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. MBK and WSE did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Pearson announced in February it was exploring a potential partnership for WSE and appointed New York-based boutique investment bank Moelis & Co as advisor.

Pearson’s involvement with WSE began in 2009 when it bought a network of English language learning centres in China from Wall Street Institute (WSI) for $145 million. It then bought WSI for $92 million from Carlyle and Citi Private Equity the following year.

Re-branded as WSE in 2013, the business provides spoken English training for adults at over 400 centres in 27 countries.

Pearson – whose offerings include textbooks, school testing, college courses and online degrees around the world – said last month it was cutting 3,000 jobs and slashing dividends to revive its business.