Lorna Whiston sold to ChangedEdu, United Square branch to expand

SINGAPORE - English enrichment chain Lorna Whiston Schools has been bought over, in a multi-million-dollar Asia expansion push by Singapore-based group ChangedEdu.

Its flagship branch in United Square, spanning 7,400 sq ft over two floors, will grow its floor space by 3,000 sq ft to allow for new facilities  like a black box theatre for speech & drama and dedicated studios for secondary school English enrichment.

The chain has another branch in Parkway Parade, two pre-schools - in Kallang Wave Mall and Winchester Road - and also operates centres in Malaysia and China.

Lorna Whiston will continue to offer its signature English enrichment and Speech & Drama programmes, on top of its pre-school curriculum, said ChangedEdu.

Its acquisition is part of an expansion announced earlier this year, in which ChangedEdu plans to invest about US$300 million (S$407.2 million) to US$500 million in global education brands over the next three to four years.

The education group is partnered with Belgian investment holding firm Verlinvest, which has family ties to brewer Anheuser Busch InBev.

ChangedEdu founder and chief executive officer Brian Rogove was previously CEO of Asia-Pacific for Cognita Group of Schools, which runs Stamford American International School and the Australian International School here.

The education providers for investment were "carefully selected", Mr Rogove said in a media release on Monday (Sept 4), adding: "A well-rounded education includes a good mix of academic and extra-curricular enrichment, and that is what we offer to all students."

Verlinvest Asia executive director Nicholas Cator told DealStreetAsia in July that there is a "large number" of opportunities to invest in education in Asia, with his firm's strategy focusing on both mergers and acquisitions as well as greenfield investments.

It is eyeing deals with enterprise value of between US$15 million and US$50 million, he told the financial news website.

Lorna Whiston Schools is not the only private education operator to have garnered hefty investor interest.

Its United Square neighbour The Learning Lab, another tuition chain, in 2014 sold a stake for S$300 million to Boston-based private equity firm Advent International.

As part of its expansion, ChangedEdu also said on Monday that it will open a branch of US college counselling network Collegewise in Singapore by late 2017 to advise students here on overseas university applications.

Elsewhere in South-east Asia, it is opening a Vietnam branch of student support services provider Gateway Education in 2018, after the British-headquartered Gateway disposed of its majority shareholding to ChangedEdu in July.

ChangedEdu has also acquired six of language school Wall Street English's centres in Ho Chi Minh City, with plans to open more there and in Hanoi over the next year.

ChangedEdu's takeover of Lorna Whiston Schools comes on the heels of the brand's 2016 buy-out by private equity firm Rising Tide Asia, as founder Lorna Whiston - a former teacher who set up the chain in 1980 - readied herself for retirement.

At the time, Rising Tide Asia's managing director, Mr John Forsyth, said in a letter to parents: "Over the next few years, we will be looking to expand the group's presence across Singapore and Malaysia, and we will be investing significantly in modernising our existing campuses with new facilities, resources and technology."