Can Laureate Change the Landscape of Global Higher Education?

Earlier this year, IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, announced an investment of $150 million in common stock of Laureate Education, Inc., representing IFC’s largest education investment. This was a landmark development in the world of international higher education, as it validated the model of Laureate with a significant investment. What made Laureate so successful?

Laureate Education, Inc., started in 1998, was formerly known as Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc. and changed its name in 2004. It is interesting to note that Sylvan was one the largest K-12 tutoring service provider, which made a strategic decision to re-focus its resources and emerging in international higher education.

In a short span of 15 years, it has grown to enroll 780,000 students in more than 30 countries across 100 campuses. Laureate achieved this growth through a combination of three primary strategies:
1. Focus on emerging markets
2. Career-oriented education
3. Investment-based approach

Laureate focused on emerging markets institutions by investing/buying/partnering with private institutions offering career-oriented courses. Some of its early investments included Universidad Europea de Madrid (UEM, Spain) in 1999 and Universidad del Valle de México in 2000, even before Walden University in 2001.

In addition to above three primary strategies, Laureate, has invested in online higher education and lately worked towards investing in reputation building too. For example, investment in Coursera follows its previous partnership with the University of Liverpool to bet on online higher education. Likewise, recent partnership with Thunderbird and Monash University in South Africa shows its new quest for reputation. It also preserved the identities of the local institutions acquired or invested and putting them under an umbrella of “Laureate International Universities.”

While, Laureate is gaining recognition and payoff from a tough and gutsy strategic choices made 15 years back, the future is more tumultuous and uncertain.  Laureate will tested for its continued strategic choices on making the right bets with the markets, competition and technology. Despite the challenges, Laureate ties with Coursera as a disruptive model with a potential to change the face of global higher education.

I will also be delivering a keynote on Transnational education at the upcoming conference organized by UCAS, Universities UK and the UK HE International in London, where I will discuss on opportunities and challenges with TNE.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha