June 20, 2014 7:22 pm

Ashridge in merger talks

Ashridge Business School is considering forming an alliance with one of at least two higher education providers.

Kai Peters, chief executive of Ashridge, which has charitable status in the UK, confirmed that the school was looking at “possible strategic partnerships which would allow Ashridge greater opportunities and continuing independence”.

However, Prof Peters rejected speculation that the move was due to the financial headwinds the school had been facing. He stressed that the school is financially healthy and added that business “has been booming” since last August with growing demand for executive short courses. Prof Peters added that contrary to speculation it was impossible for the school to be taken over because it is structured as a charity.

Speculation relating to Ashridge’s financial position has been fuelled by the school’s most recent report to the UK’s Charity Commission submitted last summer, which was a tough period for the year ending December 2012.

Ashridge occupies listed buildings in Hertfordshire, which means it is obliged to maintain its buildings for the nation. Its report shows that while it spent £6.6m on management education it also forked out a further £2.3m on estate preservation.

At the same time, income was constrained, the report notes. “Ashridge was far from alone in higher education experiencing a significant downturn in 2012, incurring its first ever deficit.”

Charity Commission figures show the school’s income amounted to £32.7m but that expenditure was £34.2m. The more detailed accounts showed the school’s pension scheme deficit had risen sharply from £23.8m in 2011 to £29.7m by the end of 2012.

However, Prof Peters said figures for the year ended December 2013, which will soon be publicly available on the Charity Commission website, show conditions improved dramatically in 2013. He said there had been a significant reduction in the pension deficit and that the school had made a surplus of £1.3m in 2013.

The not-for-profit school in Hertfordshire to the north of London, runs a suite of graduate programmes including a full time MBA, an Executive MBA and a Masters in Management as well as executive short courses – both custom and open. In the Financial Times Executive Education rankings 2014 Ashridge is ranked 16 for custom programmes, compared with 11 in 2013.

It holds triple accreditation from the US-based AACSB, Equis, the quality standard of the European Foundation for Management Development and the Association of MBAs, based in the UK.

Ashridge announced in August last year that it would link up with Pearson, the education and publishing company and owner of the Financial Times, to offer undergraduate degrees in the UK from 2014.

News of its seeking a strategic partnerships follows a number of similar moves in the world of business education. In October 2013 HHL Leipzig forged links with a for-profit education provider called Cognos Education Group. In September 2013 Gisma, in Hannover, announced it had been bailed out by Global University Systems, the for-profit education group that owns the London School of Business and Finance. In April 2014, Thunderbird, the Arizona business school, announced the termination of talks with a for-profit company with which the school had hoped to form an alliance.

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