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Exclusive: University of Law sells Brum premises and puts Bloomsbury on market for 50 million quid in leaseback deals

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Students will not be affected with business continuing as usual at prime location branches

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The University of Law (ULaw) has sold one of its biggest properties and put another on the market, triggering speculation in some quarters over the long-term intentions of its private equity company owner.

However, the law school — which earlier this week launched a new route to becoming a solicitor that drastically reduces the financial burden on students — says it will use the proceeds to support a scheme of long term investment in the business.

As Legal Cheek can exclusively reveal, the ULaw Birmingham campus — which opened more than 13 years ago — has already been sold as part of a “sale and leaseback” deal.

And the university also confirmed that its Store Street branch in London’s Bloomsbury has been put up for sale in a bid to secure a similar leaseback arrangement. An entry on the website of upmarket commercial property firm Jones Lang LaSalle, which is handling the sale, says the Bloomsbury premises (and former cottaging hotspot) is valued at a whopping £51.65 million. It adds that the leaseback to ULaw would apply for ten years.

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A ULaw spokeswoman declined to go into the financial details of the sales, saying that the university “is planning to reorganise its property portfolio in order to provide more flexibility for growth”.

And the institution indicated that other jewels in its property crown could also be put on the market, saying the reorganisation will “involve investigating the potential for sale and leaseback of some of its centres”.

This, the spokeswoman added, “will provide financial flexibility to support our long-term investment programme to develop the university’s facilities and infrastructure, enhance the student experience and support new ventures”.

ULaw emphasised that the Birmingham deal and any future property sales will not disrupt student study programmes. University sources suggest that ultimately students will benefit from a planned long-term investment programme to develop facilities and infrastructure, assisted by a reduction in costs associated with owning a diverse property estate.

Earlier this week ULaw signalled that it is building for the future as it used a recent regulation change to launch an alternative to the training contract. The new “articled apprenticeship” route will see students study a part-time law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC) while working at regional law firm Hillyer McKeown — before qualifying as solicitors without having to complete a training contract. If it catches on, the earn-while-you-learn scheme should help boost social mobility in the law.

Nonetheless, the property activity has triggered market speculation that Montagu Private Equity — which beat competition from media giant Pearson and Providence Private Equity to buy what used to be known as the College of Law for £200 million — is moving towards cashing in on its investment in the not too distant future.

Montagu inked the deal on the purchase of the then charity-status college in April 2012, with market scuttlebutt forecasting that the London-based house would stay with the institution for around five years. Similar gossip has often swirled around rival law school BPP since it was purchased by mega US for-profit education business Apollo Group in 2009.

A ULaw spokeswoman threw cold water over speculation that the entire business would be sold on anytime soon, telling Legal Cheek:

“The University of Law isn’t a property company; it’s an educational organisation. Hence this is an entirely standard estate management process for institutions like ours to undertake. The process will support our long-term investment programme to develop the university’s facilities and infrastructure, enhance the student experience, support the development of new ventures and reduce the costs involved in owning a diverse estate.”