Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Nikkei Said to Plan FT-Branded English-Learning Push in Japan

  • Education initiative would compete with ex-FT owner Pearson
  • Nikkei: ‘Nothing decided’ on English e-learning service

Two years after buying the Financial Times, Nikkei Inc. is using the salmon-colored broadsheet to break into the education business of its former owner, Pearson Plc, with a plan to market FT-branded English courses in Japan.

The FT e-learning product, geared toward Japanese business professionals, is currently in a testing stage, according to a person familiar with the effort. Nikkei is aiming to start service by late next year, said the person, who asked not to be named discussing plans that aren’t public.

Nikkei’s push into English learning adds to the challenges facing Pearson, the world’s largest education company, which is already battling a decline in the key U.S. testing market and rising competition from online textbook rentals. Should Nikkei decide to expand the new venture beyond Japan, it would do so armed with an FT brand recognized globally by the target audience of business executives.

“The company is working on various business with FT, but nothing has been decided about the English e-learning service at this time,” Nikkei said in a statement in response to questions from Bloomberg. The Financial Times declined to comment.

While Japan accounts for less than 1 percent of Pearson’s revenue, English courseware and services accounted for 528 million pounds ($685 million) of sales last year, or just under 12 percent of total sales. Pearson sold the FT to Nikkei for $1.3 billion in 2015 to double down on education, just as big players like Inc. pressed in.

Nikkei’s plans come against the backdrop of an evolving partnership in Japan. Pearson still considers it to be “strong,” though focused on assessment, the London-based company said in an emailed statement.

Pearson last year sold a business called GlobalEnglish that serves corporate clients and partners with Nikkei in Japan. Nikkei still distributes Pearson’s English tests in the country, and the companies work together on Pearson’s English-language standard for measuring learning progress. “We are now looking into how we jointly can improve the employability of Japanese learners,” Pearson said.

Bigger Bets

More broadly, Pearson is focusing on fewer, bigger opportunities in education.

“For English-language learning this means a narrower focus on fast-growing areas such as digital and blended English courseware; and English language assessment,” the company said. “These areas of our business are growing strongly and we see significant potential for future growth.”

This month, Pearson faced a shareholder rebellion over the pay package it awarded Chief Executive Officer John Fallon, after shocking investors with a profit warning in January. The stock gained after the company instituted a deep cost-cutting plan.

In February, Pearson hired Moelis & Co. to sell a Chinese English-learning business, called Global Education, and seek a partner for another venture in China, Wall Street English.

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with the Financial Times and Nikkei in providing financial news and information, including through Bloomberg’s Japanese-language news service.

— With assistance by Grace Huang

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