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Aus: int’l student complaints fell in 2020

The body that investigates international student complaints against education providers in Australia has recorded a decrease in complaints in 2020 compared to the same time the previous year, with disputes over fees making up almost half of all complaints.

The ombudsman received 99 complaints from students impacted by mode of study changes, financial hardship, or border closures as a result of the pandemic. Photo: Unsplash

Of all complaints for the period, 49% were about fees and refunds

Data from the Overseas Students Ombudsman’s unit shows in the period July 1 – September 30 2020 the office finalised 375 complaints covering 414 issues, which represented a 4% drop from the same period in 2019.

Students from 51 countries lodged complaints during the period with the largest groups of complainants from Brazil (14 cases), followed by India (12) and Colombia (10).

“The Vocational Education and Training sector continues to be the sector investigated most”

Issues involving the impacts of Covid-19 were also significantly represented.

“The office continues to receive complaints from international students about actions or decisions of their providers in response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the report stated.

“During the 1 July–30 September 2020 quarter, we received 99 complaints from students impacted by mode of study changes, financial hardship, or border closures as a result of the pandemic.”

Those impacted students were predominantly seeking refunds for prepaid fees, deferment of study, or reductions in fees.

One complaint saw a provider refuse to refund a student’s pre-paid tuition fees directly to them, but insisted on sending the refund to the student’s education agent. The student’s relationship with the education agent had broken down and the student wanted to be refunded directly.

The education provider argued that the education agent had done a significant amount of work on the student’s placement with the provider and was entitled to discount their fees from the refund.

“As part of our investigation into the dispute, we examined the student’s written agreement with the education provider. The written agreement did not specify the education agent as a person to whom a refund could be paid,” the report noted.

“Under the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018, providers must specify in written agreements if a refund is to be paid to a person other than the overseas student (standard 3.4.3). On that basis, we formed the view that the provider should refund the relevant fees directly to the international student, as requested.”

Of all complaints for the period, 49% were about fees and refunds, 15% related to transfers between providers, and 8% about progress, attendance or course duration.

The Vocational Education and Training sector continues to be the sector investigated most, with 52% of investigated complaints from students studying VET courses. However, the VET sector also has the highest proportion of international students in the office’s jurisdiction (71%).

New South Wales providers recorded the highest number of complaints against them with 149 lodged in the period, followed by Victoria with 106, whereas the Northern Territory recorded no complaints

The office found 41% of providers that were subject to complaints had not met their responsibilities.

The office has subsequently made 12 suggestions to providers, covering issues such as accessibility of complaints and appeals processes, improved wording of clauses in written agreements, and improvements to policies and procedures to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

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