CVC Capital Partners is close to a deal for a 25% stake in Dubai’s GEMS Education, a private school operator backed by Blackstone Group, that values the firm at more than $4 billion, people familiar with the matter said.
CVC may pay $1 billion or more for the holding and a deal could be announced in the coming days, the people said, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are private. No final decisions have been made and the London-based private equity firm may still decide against a deal.
Representative for GEMS and London-based CVC declined to comment.
Blackstone and other investors - including Fajr Capital, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat Holding and the Varkey Group - began exploring other options for their holdings in GEMS last year after the company put plans for an initial public offering on hold, people familiar with the matter said at the time.
The share sale was postponed after the government said it planned to freeze school fees, hurting the firm’s earnings projections, people said.
A private equity firm had approached GEMS’s owners last year about buying a stake, but it was rebuffed in favour of the IPO, people familiar with the matter said at the time.
Parents in the United Arab Emirates spend more on education than families anywhere else in the world except for Hong Kong, according to a 2017 study from HSBC Holdings. That’s contributed to a glut of new schools opening last year, even after the UAE cracked down on fees. Dubai said in March that it will allow most schools to raise their tuition again in the next academic year.
Last month, GEMS teamed up with a Saudi investment firm to buy the kingdom’s largest private school operator, Maarif for Education & Training. Maarif operates about 100 schools and has plans to build another 50.
GEMS also had 47 schools across the UAE and Gulf region as of February 2018, with about 118,000 students enrolled, according to its financial report.
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