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The University of Law has been sold for the second time in three years

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Private equity-owned outfit changes hands again

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The University of Law is understood to have been sold today to one of the world’s biggest private education conglomerates only three years after the former charity was Hoovered up by a London private equity house.

Legal Cheek can reveal that Europe’s biggest law school is now in the hands of Global University Systems (GUS). It is understood that university staff were informed of the sale this afternoon.

The buyer — which is understood to have instructed England-based global franchise law firm Eversheds — has a low profile, but owns at least nine institutions across the globe. On its books are the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) and the London College of Contemporary Arts as well as the University of Canada West.

It is not known how much current owners — Montagu Private Equity — will trouser from the deal, but observers were surprised last night that it was ditching the university now. It is understood that current president and chief executive John Latham will continue in his position.

Montagu bought the then College of Law in 2012 for £200 million. Since then, the government gave the green light to an upgraded university status. However, the institution has struggled commercially.

At the end of 2013, it lost the deal for bulk provision of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for magic circle law firm Allen & Overy. Nine months later, global rival Clifford Chance ditched the university by following A&O to arch-competitors BPP Law School. But fellow magic circle firm Linklaters recently renewed its LPC deal with the university.

When Montagu bought the institution, it agreed to a deal hiving off £200m for the creation of a charitable fund, which became the Legal Education Foundation.

The GUS website provides scant information about the business, saying simply that it “partners with internationally-minded, innovative and forward thinking educational institutions”.

As of Monday evening, neither Eversheds nor the University of Law had responded to Legal Cheek‘s requests for comment (although this morning the University of Law got in touch and confirmed that it was declining to comment at this stage). The GUS’s UK address is at Tower Hill on the fringes of the City of London, while its headquarters is listed as being in Schiphol in The Netherlands.

GUS chief executive Aaron (sometimes known as Arkady) Etingen founded the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) about 11 years ago. According the GUS website, the institution has some 1,500 staff, “ensuring that innovation, creativity and a strong commitment to high standards are embedded across the entire group”.

The GUS site says the business is rooted in the finance and banking sectors, claiming it has transformed form origins as “a small business school with four students to a global organisation with more than 40,000 students and alumni from 180 countries and growing presence worldwide”.

It claims that Etigen’s “leadership is one of the key reasons behind the success of Global University Systems”.

However, a year ago, The Guardian newspaper reported that more than 20 lecturers at the LSBF were in rebellion. According to the paper, they claimed the institution was “chaotically organised, lack[ed] basic teaching resources and maintain[ed] disruptive students on its books to keep the income they generate flowing in”.

Meanwhile, another GUS-owned institution, St Patrick’s, the UK’s largest private college, was suspended from the student loans system in February amid concerns about, amongst other things, high dropout rates. It has since been readmitted.

Commenting on speculation that GUS had scooped up ULaw, one legal education commentator suggested questions would be asked of the UK government’s new minister for higher education, Jo Johnson, who is also the brother of London mayor and newly-elected MP, Boris.