Recent complaints about education agents
The Overseas Students Ombudsman (OSO) has received a number of complaints recently alleging an education agent has engaged in dishonest practices in enrolling international students with Australian education providers and handling refunds of tuition fees.
What can students do?
If you choose to use an education agent to enrol in a course of study with an Australian education provider, check that that agent is listed as an approved agent on the education provider’s website. You can also contact the education provider to confirm your enrolment details or other information if you have any concerns.
If you believe an education agent has engaged in dishonest practices, for example, relating to enrolment or refunds, you should make a complaint to your Australian education provider first. All education providers in Australia that are registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) to enrol international students, must have a complaints process that is easily accessible to international students. Your education provider is required to investigate your complaint and explain the outcome of your complaint to you in writing.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint to your private Australian education provider, then you can contact the OSO. The OSO provides an independent, impartial, external complaints process for international students enrolled with private CRICOS-registered education providers. The service is free for international students. (For complaints about public education providers, contact the relevant State or Territory Ombudsman.
What can the OSO do?
The Overseas Students Ombudsman can investigate a complaint about an education agent if that agent has an agreement with a private Australian CRICOS-registered education provider to formally represent it. We can look at the actions of the private CRICOS-registered education provider to see if it has complied with Standard 4 – Education Agents – of the National Code of National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2007. Standard 4 requires CRICOS-registered education providers to monitor the activities of their agents, including taking corrective action where required.
If the alleged dishonest practice relates to the handling of a refund, we can consider the parts of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) that relate to refunds and the refund policy, which should be included in the written agreement that the student signed or otherwise accepted when enrolling with the education provider. We can also consider if the student’s written agreement with the education provider is compliant with the requirements of the ESOS Act.
If we think the education provider has done the right thing, we will explain our reasons why to the student who has made the complaint. If we think the education provider has made a mistake or failed to do something correctly, we can recommend that the education provider take certain actions to fix the problem. If the education provider refuses to implement our recommendations, we can report them to responsible regulator which has registered them on CRICOS to enrol international students.
What can education providers do?
Education providers should monitor the activities of the education agents they use and take corrective action if required, as set out in Standard 4 of the National Code.
Education providers should ensure they have an easily accessible complaints process, as required by Standard 8 of the National Code, for any students who want to report concerns about their education agent/s. Education providers should investigate complaints and provide students with a written outcome explaining what they have done in response to the complaint and the reasons for any decisions made or actions taken in response. The education provider should also advise students of their right to complain to an external complaints and appeals body if they are not satisfied with the way their education provider has handled their complaint.
Education providers should ensure that their written agreements with international students (including the refund policy) comply with the relevant requirements of the ESOS Act. Education providers can use the OSO’s Written Agreements Checklist (updated January 2016) to check if their written agreement is complaint with the ESOS Act.
Education providers must pay any refunds owed to students according to the requirements of the ESOS Act. For more information about compliant written agreements, see the OSO’s Written Agreements Issues Paper (updated January 2016).
Where can I go for more information?
The Australian Embassy Brasilia has published information on its website about using an education agent http://brazil.embassy.gov.au/ and in Portuguese http://brazil.embassy.gov.au/brasportuguese/home.html
The Australian Embassy Santiago has published information on its website in Spanish about using an education agent http://chile.embassy.gov.au/sclecastellano/AgentesEducativos.html.
The Department of Education and Training (DET) has published a Fact Sheet which includes information about using an education agent and refunds.See:International education: ensuring quality and protecting students (fact sheet).