Beijing-based Ambow Education Group, which raised US$103 million (HK$798 million) from a clutch of investors recently, plans to acquire a dozen training centres around the country, in the belief that the education sector will cycle upward despite the global financial crisis. The company, a leading provider of personalised education and training services on the mainland, said the proceeds from the latest round of fund-raising are enough to support its expansion, though the road to an initial public offering looks difficult given the stock market's weakness. 'In the face of the bleak economic outlook, people will increasingly realise the importance of education,' said Cherry Pu, Ambow's vice-president in charge of global alliance and investment. 'Demand for vocational training is set to increase when more people hunt for jobs.' The company, founded in 2000 by Silicon Valley veteran Jin Huang, attracted Actis, a private equity group focusing on emerging markets, in the new round of financing, while existing investors Avenue Capital and Macquarie Group increased their investments. In October 2007, Ambow raised US$54 million from Avenue, CID Group, Cisco and Macquarie. 'We have a long-term plan for an IPO, but an IPO is not necessarily our ultimate goal, because Ambow wants to create a reputable education brand,' said Ms Pu. Ambow provides tailored services to help students in primary and middle schools maximise their learning potential. Its other core business is vocational training. The company has regional hubs in Beijing, Tianjin, Shaanxi, Henan and Guangzhou. Ms Pu said the new funds would be used to acquire more training centres in major mainland cities.