THE owner of the John Smith's book shop chain has increased its profits by almost a third thanks to a strong year in its higher education division.

Annual accounts for the John Smith & Son Group show turnover grew 2% from £40 million to £40.8m.

In the 12 months to May 31, 2013, pre-tax profits came in at £220,020, which was up 31% from the £167,709 posted in the prior year. The company, which has its registered office in Glasgow but is owned by Dorset-based Cubit Group, said sales in its higher education arm grew 19.7% to £24.9m in the year.

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The UK saw a 12% increase, while overseas operations, which includes the John Smith's International brand that has shops in Africa, were up by 59.2%.

The growth was said to be underpinned by the Aspire business unit, which is a bursary management tool for universities.

It allows institutes to disperse cashless financial awards through the use of smartcards which can be used in John Smith's bookshops or its online portal.

The accounts noted that Aspire was adopted by Glasgow, Bedfordshire, West London and Bolton universities in the UK in the year, as well asby Swaziland's Creative Technology University and Sunyani Polytechnic in Ghana.

Peter Gray, chairman and chief executive of John Smith & Son Group, said: "This growth reflects our significant investment in providing new and innovative solutions to our university customers that stretch way beyond traditional campus bookstores.

"In particular, the adoption of our Aspire bursary management solution is providing us with the opportunity of driving strong relationships with our university and student partners."

The company predicted further take-up in future years and said: "The flexibility of the Aspire model to the specific needs of each institution increases its attraction within the sector."

However legal information services arm Hammicks saw its market continue to contract with one central government contract reducing by 35% as a result of budget cuts in the UK.

Overall revenue in the division was down by 8.4% but it said outside the government contract it had grown its market share.

The accounts show net debt widened from £803,995.

Average staff numbers grew from 214 to 239, with employee costs going up from £4.3m to £4.8m.

Directors remuneration rose from around £243,000 to more than £268,000.

The John Smith book chain can trace its roots to 1751 in Glasgow. It still operates campus shops at Glasgow, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian and Stirling universities in Scotland.