Times Higher Education: Big fish, big pond

Ambition to grow combined with capital to fund it can really maximise opportunity. Times Higher Education is learning this since partnering with Inflexion in 2019 and acquiring a US market leader last year. CEO Paul Howarth tells us about this transformational growth.

For half a century, Times Higher Education (THE) has been collecting information on universities to provide data, rankings and content to help institutions, academics, students, industry and governments to gain insight and benchmark higher education institutions. Decades of careful number crunching helped it to earn the respect of the educators it served, resulting in it becoming the clear leader in its home UK market, which is estimated to be worth over $46 billion.

While impressive, across the pond was the behemoth US market, worth over $500 billion, with more than 4000 higher education institutions. THE had a slice of that market – but only roughly 1%, and that was concentrated on the top 50 institutions. There was ample room to grow.

To accelerate its growth both digitally and internationally, THE partnered with Inflexion in early 2019 and earlier this year made firm inroads stateside when it acquired Inside Higher Ed (IHE), a leader in the US market. The firms had already collaborated in certain areas, but the backing of Inflexion, with the funding and experience they bring, helped oil the wheels for a purchase. “I approached IHE in March 2021 to see if we could collaborate more closely than we had been. I had two years of Inflexion-backing behind me and so they were interested in considering a buyout,” Paul recalls.

The acquisition this year means the enlarged THE business now reaches a combined audience of over 50 million annually, boosting financials and brand awareness. “The acquisition added 25% to the existing business’s revenue and EBITDA, so it’s really scaled the shape and focus of THE,” Paul explains. “We are a very international business, in nearly every country or territory in the world in some way shape or form. Not many can say this,” Paul boasts. “It helps to balance THE’s portfolio by geography as well as offering.”


It was the second purchase for THE following Inflexion’s buyout, with higher education consultancy The Knowledge Partnership marking THE’s first Inflexion-supported acquisition in December 2020. This, according to Paul, was helpful in building UK market share.

Inflexion has supported Paul and his team throughout the M&A processes in making the offers, negotiating with the senior teams and advising on structures. “Our Inflexion board members are hugely supportive, and the quality of their input is very valuable.”


THE isn’t a one-trick ranking pony: “We’re more about data and insight now, helping the universities’ C-suites make important decisions. Rankings play a role in that, but they’re a snapshot in time whereas our data and insights have more longevity.” THE’s scope was also widened by adding its Impact Rankings in 2019, which are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The timing was serendipitous since lockdowns cancelled all THE’s in-person events less than a year later, with the Impact Rankings revenues replacing this lost income.

THE is increasingly working with governments, with a phase 2 agreement just signed worth c. £500,000 with one Asian country and Inflexion’s in-country experts supporting others. “Xuan has introduced us to partners in China, which is helpful as it’s a hugely challenging market,” Paul says.

Another big growth area for THE has been evolving from pure B2B into B2C by monetising this audience: THE Student launched in 2020 as a new digital platform providing the higher education community with opportunities to engage with prospective international students in one place. In its first year, 400,000 new students from around the world registered with THE in 2021, compared to 58,339 in 2020 – an increase of 572%.

THE isn’t taking its pedal off the gas, with a number of acquisitions currently being assessed by the team. All are founder-led businesses, and one is in the US. “All have referenced Inflexion very positively and it helps,” Paul says. Reflecting on his work with five private equity backers in a variety of different businesses over the years, he adds,

Inflexion backed the buyout of THE in February 2019 and since then has been working closely to continue its global expansion utilising our experts in the US and Asia. Our in-house digital team are assisting with enhancing the company’s digital presence and our pricing specialist is supporting the evolving go-to-market strategy.