New horizons for Varkey with stake in Dubai college

The Varkey Group, the holding company of Gems Education, has taken its first step into the UAE’s higher education sector by acquiring a stake in Dubai’s International Horizons College (IHC).

The group yesterday announced the acquisition of a stake in AHC GCC Investment, the holding company behind the Business Bay-based institution.

IHC, which opened its doors to students in January 2013, provides tuition for high school leavers for two years in Dubai, following which they are transferred to a choice of Rutgers University, the University of Vermont or India’s Symbiosis International University to complete their undergraduate studies.

“Over 2,500 students graduate from Gems schools every year, and all of these students are looking to pursue higher education,” said CN Radhakrishnan, Varkey’s senior executive director. “For a while we’ve been contemplating offering an end-to-end service to our customers for after their children graduate from high school.”

Varkey plans to work with IHC to increase its pathway agreements with other universities in India, the UK, the US and Australia, he said.

The deal gives Varkey a minority stake in the college’s holding company, but full management control, according to Mr Radhakrishnan

The purchase price for the stake was less than US$50 million, he said, declining to give further details.

“Developing a skilled, talented and career-ready workforce is an essential requirement to realise the UAE’s vision of becoming a knowledge society,” said the group’s chairman Sunny Varkey yesterday.

“The Varkey Group is delighted to contribute to this endeavour, through our new foray into higher education.”

IHC currently has 22 students on its books, all of which are expatriates. The college, based in Ubora Towers in Dubai’s Business Bay, hopes that this number will increase to 100 with the next of intake of students in August.

“[The Varkey Group’s] involvement will bring additional management experience, enhanced student access and broader opportunities for world class and global university partnerships that will help International Horizons College enhance its existing academic offering and expand into other complementary pathways programs,” said AHC’s chairman Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar Hussain.

Varkey’s purchase of a stake in AHC is the fourth acquisition of a Dubai-based academic institution in the past eight months, in the midst of the emirate’s expanding population and economy.

GFH Capital last month announced the acquisition of an unnamed American curriculum private school in Dubai for $34m.

In November the Dubai-based real estate investment trust Emirates Reit signed an agreement with Gems to acquire the facilities and related assets of the Gems World Academy in Al Barsha, by way of an acquisition leaseback deal.

The Emirates Reit deal came less than three weeks after a similar deal between Gems and New York’s PineBridge Investments for the acquisition of an unnamed Gems campus.

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