Pace of change means challenge and opportunity for FT and Pearson

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We have reached an inflection point in global media. The pace of disruptive change in new technology — in particular, the explosive growth of mobile and social media — poses a direct challenge to how leading media organisations produce and sell their journalism. They have a great opportunity — to reach more readers than ever before — but must also reimagine their business models.

Great brands will seize the moment and embrace the digital opportunity. But to do this effectively, organisations will need significant investment, a global brand and an unerring focus. Given the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, the best way to ensure continuing success is to be part of a global, digital news organisation that is 100 per cent focused on making and selling journalism.

So, after much reflection and analysis over many months, we’ve decided the time is right for a new owner to take the FT forward. Nikkei shares our commitment to the FT’s editorial independence; it has proved that in its own journalism, equally published without fear or favour.

Pearson and the FT will continue to work together in areas like global business education and teaching English in countries such as China. Pearson is already the world’s largest provider of English language learning, reaching more than 33m students worldwide. But we’re still only meeting a fraction of the global demand — over a billion people will be learning English as a foreign language by 2020.

The world of education is now changing profoundly, through globalisation, the emerging middle class in countries including India, China and Brazil, and the revolution of digital technology. The number of students going to university around the world is expected to triple over the next 20 years.

And that is what the future of Pearson is about: the ever-growing global demand for better education — whether that means learning real skills that lead to a career, access to better teachers and learning resources, or more affordable and effective higher education. It is a big and fragmented sector — annual global spending on education is estimated at about £3tn. As a business that currently makes around £5bn in annual sales, that is a lot of space for Pearson to grow.

We are accelerating our investment in digital learning and fast-growing economies — in the past five years we have invested in some of the most dynamic education businesses in the US, China, Brazil and South Africa. We are designing innovative digital technologies and new business models to help reduce barriers to learning and contribute to solving the world’s most pressing education challenges.

Fifty-eight years ago when Pearson bought the FT, the spread of authoritative reliable news helped democracies to form and markets to function. While that need remains crucial today, I believe it is now the promise of education, not just information, that can be the world’s greatest path to equality of opportunity. Parents the world over say that the single most important goal for their children is to gain the skills that will help them forge successful careers and lives. This is the promise of education — and the future of Pearson.

The writer is chief executive of Pearson, the proprietor of the Financial Times and the world’s largest education company

(This story originally appeared in the Financial Times on Friday, 24 July.)