Frequently asked questions for overseas students and other complainants

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What is an Ombudsman?

An Ombudsman is a person who helps people who have problems with Australian businesses and government agencies. There are different Ombudsmen for different businesses and parts of government.

The Ombudsman’s services are free, independent and impartial – the Ombudsman does not take sides.

If the Ombudsman finds that a business or government agency has done the wrong thing or treated someone unfairly, he can recommend a remedy. That remedy might be, for example, an apology, better information, a new decision, or a refund.

What does the Overseas Students Ombudsman do?

The Overseas Students Ombudsman investigates complaints about problems that international students have with private schools, college and universities (education providers) in Australia.

If you are not satisfied with a decision or action taken by your private registered education provider, you should ask about their internal complaints and appeals process. If you complain to your provider, but you are not satisfied with the result, you can complain to the Ombudsman.

What if I have a complaint about a public or government education provider?

You should contact the Ombudsman for your State or Territory.

Who can complain to the Overseas Students Ombudsman?

Intending, current and former Overseas students can contact the Ombudsman about an action or decision taken by their private registered education provider in Australia. Family or friends of overseas students, who are concerned about a problem an overseas student is having with a private provider, can also contact the Ombudsman. See: Permission for someone else to act on my behalf form

What can I complain about?

You can complain about your provider if you believe they may not have followed the rules correctly or treated you fairly. Complaints might be about:

  • refusing admission to a course
  • fees and refunds
  • course or provider transfers
  • course progress or attendance
  • cancellation of enrolment
  • accommodation or work arranged by your provider
  • incorrect advice given by an education agent.

The Overseas Students Ombudsman can investigate complaints about education agents who have an agreement with a provider to represent them in Australia or overseas.

You can also complain if a provider has failed to take action or is taking too long to take some action, like not providing your results in the normal timeframe, or not providing services included in your written agreement with the provider.

You can complain about something which happened in the past, but the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate a complaint if you have known about the problem for more than 12 months.

Who is an overseas student?

An overseas student is someone who is studying in Australia on a student visa. An overseas student is also called an international student.

An intending overseas student is someone who has taken any steps towards becoming an overseas student.

If you are in Australia on a student visa, or are planning to come soon, you can contact the Overseas Students Ombudsman if you have a problem with your private school, college or other private registered education provider. If you have been an overseas student and have a problem with your provider that happened while you were on a student visa, we may be able to help you. However, if you have known about the problem for more than 12 months, the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate your complaint.

If you are in Australia on a working holiday maker or visitor visa the Overseas Students Ombudsman cannot help you.  You should talk to your education provider about your complaint and appeal rights.

What is an education provider?

In Australia, different names for places of education and training include: school, college, academy, institution, university, institute of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Registered Training Organisation (RTO). These are all ‘education providers’.

What is the difference between private and public education providers?

Education providers which are private businesses are called ‘private education providers’. Government education providers are called ‘public education providers’.

What is a registered education provider?

All education providers must register with the Australian Government on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) before enrolling Overseas Students in a course. You can check if your education provider and course are registered by visiting the CRICOS website at http://cricos.education.gov.au/

Can somebody else contact the Ombudsman for me?

Yes. You may want someone else, like a friend or family member, to contact the Ombudsman for you. You will need to give them your permission to do this.

If a group of Overseas Students all have the same problem, they can make one complaint to the Ombudsman together. See: Permission for someone else to act on my behalf form

Do I have to give my name when making a complaint?

No. You can tell us about a problem without giving us your name and contact details – this is called an anonymous complaint.

We will still try to look into your complaint, but we may not be able to contact you to tell you what happened. And depending on what the problem is, we may not be able to investigate it without knowing who is experiencing the problem.

How will the Ombudsman investigate my complaint?

When you contact us about a problem, we will carefully consider if we can help you. In some cases, the Ombudsman may decide not to investigate a complaint. This might be because:

  • you have not complained to your education provider first, or
  • another organisation is better able to help you.

If we decide not to investigate, we will tell you why.

If we do investigate your complaint, we will contact your provider to ask them about what happened. When we have received all the information that we need, we will decide whether your education provider has followed their rules, policies and procedures correctly and treated you fairly. We will tell you what we have decided and why.

The Ombudsman cannot make decisions about academic merit. For example, if your provider has decided that you have not met course progress or attendance requirements, we cannot make a new decision about this. Instead, we can look at whether your education provider followed the rules properly in making their decision and treated you fairly.

How long will it take to investigate my complaint?

The time it takes to investigate a complaint varies. Some problems are simple to resolve while others are more complex and take longer to investigate. We will keep you informed about the progress of your complaint.

What can the Ombudsman do to fix my problem?

If we find that your education provider has made a mistake or acted unfairly, we can, for example, ask them to:

  • apologise
  • change or reconsider a decision
  • provide better information
  • improve a policy or procedure
  • provide a refund
  • take some other action.

Will the information I give to the Ombudsman be kept private?

To investigate a problem, the Overseas Student Ombudsman will usually need to give some information about the complaint to the provider to find out what has happened. This will include your name and a description of your complaint, unless you have asked us not to provide specific information.

We will treat your information with privacy and respect, and collect, store, use and disclose your personal information only in accordance with Australian privacy laws.

Can my provider report me to Immigration for complaining to the Overseas Student Ombudsman?

No, you cannot be reported to Immigration for complaining to the Ombudsman.

If I complain to the Overseas Students Ombudsman will this stop my provider from reporting me to Immigration?

If you complain about your provider’s intention to report you for unsatisfactory course progress or attendance, your provider has to wait until the Ombudsman’s investigation is finalised, before reporting you.

Your provider must also maintain your enrolment while the Ombudsman is investigating your complaint.

The Ombudsman will notify you and your provider when starting and finishing a complaint investigation. Depending on the outcome, your provider may still be required to report you.

If you complain about other problems, your provider may not need to wait for the outcome of the Ombudsman’s complaint investigation, before reporting you.

If you think your provider may have reported you already, you should contact the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) immediately to discuss your visa. See: http://www.border.gov.au/ for contact details.

If you are not sure who to talk to, contact the Ombudsman for information.