Unite: The stock market high of the university next to the PP | Economy



Proeduca is not a well-known company, but it is the head of a group of 19 companies in Spain and Latin America that hold the only Spanish university, in this case 100% on-line, which is listed on the Stock Exchange: the International University of La Rioja (Unir). Its exit to the Mercado Alternativo Bursátil (MAB) last week It was quite a blow: its shares are already 59% above the starting price and put the value of the firm at 356 million. In the issuance brochure Proeduca strips its accounts and reveals that it is a money-making machine, although it does not stand out in the rankings of academic quality: 111 million billings for providing on the Internet 136 titles between officers (94) and their own (42) to 33,400 students. It has an enviable liquidity -53 million invested in mutual funds and 17 million in current accounts- and last year paid a record dividend of 15 million. Everything has been achieved in just 12 years of life.

How? La Unir does not have physical assets: its headquarters in Logroño, of 5,370 square meters, and its offices in Madrid are rented. But any week of the year can be delivered in their virtual classrooms 1,600 live classes and 50 lectures. In 2017 he took 200,000 exams and the students defended 9,700 jobs in 20 venues that are normally rented in hotels.

Behind the miracle is the almost unknown Catalan businessman Miguel Tomás Arrufat Pujol, owner of 82%. "The group has been working for 20 years, started with several training centers," recalls Rubén Stein, president of the company and former director of The Chase Manhattan Bank in Spain. "Miguel wanted to make a pioneer bet, there was no 100% online university. Its principle is that education should serve to improve the quality of life of the people, and there are many people who work and who can not access higher education. His success was to detect that potential social need and start covering it. "

Bachelor in Philosophy, Arrufat was for 25 years CEO of the publisher Magisterio Español and had previously worked in companies in the poultry sector. It has been known to surround people with varied profile: in the council feel consultants, managers, exejecutivos of media and politicians. Carlos Mayor Oreja, little brother of the ex-deputy Jaime Mayor, was president of Proeduca between April 2015 and July 2018, date in which he was cited as investigated in the Lezo case. Councilor of Education in the Community of Madrid in the Governments of Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Mayor Oreja has retired from politics, still investigated in Operation Lezo and is a Proeduca advisor.

As president of the Unir Foundation, he is also another ex-politician of the PP, Luis Alegre, the one that was during 16 years adviser of Education of the Rioja and under whose mandate the authorizations were given so that Unite began the activity. An example of a revolving door? "I can not translate an opinion about that. It was already when I arrived at Proeduca. I understand that the group considers that it is a person who brings experience ", defends Stein. La Unir also teaches a master's degree with the Atlantic Institute of Government, the business school founded by José María Aznar, has in its scientific committee the former Minister of Education Pilar del Castillo and has had Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón among its teachers. Prominent members of the PSOE are also linked to the institution. Jordi Sevilla, former PSOE minister, is the president of the social council and Manuel de la Rocha, who was education counselor in Madrid, has also worked for the group.

As a strictly virtual campus, its main asset is the teaching staff. The Unir has 647 own teachers and 667 external. 38% of the workforce is hired on a temporary basis and the rest are undefined. 26% have a part-time contract and a third work from home. "The new technologies allow you to reach a lot more people and break the walls of the classrooms. This model does not affect quality, it is normal for the type of company. We try to attract the greatest talent, "explains Stein. The rector, José María Vázquez García-Peñuela, recognizes that there is a fairly large percentage of part-time teachers. "Many of our students are masters, necessarily specialized programs. Finding specific teachers for one or two subjects, at the most, makes us have that profile. "

What is not so usual is its commercial model, in which the tutors charge a commission if they get the re-registration of the students. In addition, to attract customers they are promoted with Google Adwords and Facebook; they carry out campaigns from the call center of the company and, in Latin America, in some cases they do it through distributors that go to commission. But the old methods, according to Stein, do not stop working. "The student is at the center of our model. The success of the group is that the vast majority of new students come to us by word of mouth, "says the president. Most are anonymous, but Unir does not stand out precisely because of having good reviews in Internet forums. "We have thousands of students of 90 nationalities. We are a young university, of course there will be many things to improve to maintain quality standards at the top, "Stein says. The Unir also has different collection systems depending on the country. In Spain, for example, it usually bills in advance, but in Latin American countries it offers installment payments and other facilities. In any case, it is very successful: 10% of the people who request information end up paying the tuition.

With a solid financial position (it has no debt), Proeduca also has no special urgency to raise liquidity, but has gone to MAB, they say in the company, to demonstrate transparency and strengthen corporate governance. In the market they want to be attractive to the shareholder, they have promised a dividend of between 50% and 70% of the profits. They do not seem to stop their expansion: they already have 15% of Marconi International University of Miami and 80% of a Peruvian graduate school. Now the subcontinent provides 35% of the students, soon they will be more. "You see in the graduations, they are delighted," says its president.

Complaints from the public university of La Rioja

The University of La Rioja, public, has been fighting for years against the International University of La Rioja (Unite) in the courts because it considers that its name causes confusion among students and many administrative problems of people who want to enroll in one of them and come to the other. In fact, both have their headquarters in the same street, the avenue of La Paz, in Logroño, barely separated by 30 numbers. A ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU prevented the registration of a trademark of the company in the community, but last February the Provincial Court of Alicante gave the reason to the company to continue operating with its brands in Spain. The public entity can appeal the decision.

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