The Commonwealth Ombudsman has called for private education providers to be clearer on fees with international students who have pre-paid for courses.
The Ombudsman investigates complaints by international students against private providers and says the most common complaint is from students wanting pre-paid tuition fees refunded before they have finished their course.
“Students’ ability to seek this refund should be stated in their written agreement with the provider,” it says.
The Ombudsman received 1324 complaints in 2018-19, an increase of 32.5 per cent.
That doesn’t sound much against the figure of 740,000 international students studying in Australia, although since the Ombudsman only investigates complaints into private education providers it’s not a direct comparison.
The Ombudsman attributes the increase in complaints to extra outreach work by its staff.
The second biggest area of complaint related to student attendance and course progress monitoring, and transfers between registered providers.
The Ombudsman says that 17 per cent of students hadn’t complained to their provider first – usually the first step before any complaints body will investigate.
In January 2019 it started a trial of assisting students to make their complaint to their provider.
“This process helps to ensure that the education provider and the student have an opportunity to resolve the issue. If the education provider informs us that the complaint has been resolved, but the student advises that they are not satisfied with the provider’s resolution, our Office may start an investigation,” says the Ombudsman’s annual report.
The VET (vocational education and training) sector had the greatest number of complaints, at 62 per cent, but also has the largest number of private education providers.
Of investigations conducted, 46 per cent were ruled in favour of the provider and 34 per cent in favour of the student, while 19 per cent didn’t get to a decision (they may have been settled or withdrawn.)
During the year, the Ombudsman made eight disclosures to the relevant authorities about the behaviour of private education providers.