Over 1,000 KG-Class 12 schools in the country are up for sale, hoping to pool in an investment of close to Rs 7,500 crore (roughly $1 billion) in the next two-three years, with the Covid-19 wave hitting India’s education sector hard.
Mostly on offer are private budget schools with an annual fee cap of Rs 50,000, shows data compiled by Cerestra Ventures, market leaders in the education infrastructure sector. About 80% of school education in India is catered to by this category of institutes.
“Many state governments have put caps on fee collection even as schools are expected to pay salaries to teachers apart from bearing other overhead costs. This has made staying afloat a struggle for these institutions,” said Vishal Goel, partner, Cerestra. One large school chain had to slash non-teaching staff salaries by up to 70%, he added.
“Even funding has become difficult to come through with financial institutions hesitant on lending, owing to lack of clarity over how the situation will pan out. That has added to their woes,” he added. Goel’s company has an expansive portfolio 30 to 40 KG-Class 12 schools that it is eyeing to acquire at an estimated investment of roughly Rs 1,400 crore.
Also scouting for quality assets are established education companies with “strong strategic interest”, said Prajodh Rajan, co-founder and group CEO of EuroKids International. The chain, which currently has 30+ KG-Class 12 schools in India, is also aggressively on the lookout.
“In many cases, these schools have taken a hit because its promoters have a diversified portfolio — such as real estate — and the adverse impact on their other businesses has had an effect on the balance sheet of the schools,” added Rajan.
Between Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana there are at least 20 to 25 schools that are looking for prospective buyers, said Rakesh Gupta, managing partner of LoEstro Advisors. The company had facilitated one of the biggest school acquisitions of 2019 — of Oakridge International by Hong Kong-based Nord Anglia Education.
The Indian chain, with branches in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Bengaluru and Mohali, was reportedly bought for Rs 1,600 crore. Now, given the slump, investors foresee a 30-40% drop in the cost of acquisitions
But will this trend increase the cost of education? “I do not think so. Though reopening a school might involve some added costs, everybody in the sector is sensitive towards students. I do not see fee structures crossing a certain limit,” said Rajan.
The acquisitions might bring more stability to India’s education, feels RMC Reddy, managing director and CEO of Schoolnet India Limited, a pioneer in education technology. “Since these financial institutions and school chains have deeper pockets, it will also help reduce the technological divide that currently runs deep between premier schools and budget private schools,” he said.