Tools and resources

How can the Commonwealth Ombudsman help international students?

We provide support to future, current or former international students.

We can:

  • investigate complaints about private education providers in Australia
  • provide information about best practice complaint-handling
  • publish reports on issues in international education.

Note: Private education providers include schools, colleges and universities.

Our service is free and we do not charge for making a complaint.

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 us.

Who can complain to the Commonwealth Ombudsman?

Future, current and former international students can contact us. We can investigate complaints about private registered education providers in Australia.

If you have a concern about a family member or friend of an international student, you can contact us.

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 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.

Our Office can also 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 action. This may include:

  • not providing your results in the normal timeframe, or
  • not providing services included in your written agreement with the provider.

You can complain about a past issue or event. We may decide not to investigate a complaint if you have known about the problem for more than 12 months.

Who is an international student?

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

A future international student is someone who has taken steps towards becoming an international student.

If you are in Australia on a student visa, or are planning to come soon, you can contact us if you have a problem with your private school, college or other private registered education provider.

If you have been an international student and have a problem with your provider that happened while you were on a student visa, we may be able to help you.

If you are in Australia on a working holiday maker or visitor visa we cannot help you. You should talk to your education provider about your complaints and appeals 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)
  • Registered Training Organisation (RTO).

The above are all ‘education providers’.

What is the difference between private and public education providers?

'Private education providers' are education providers that are private businesses.

'Public education providers' are government 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 international 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 Commonwealth Ombudsman for me?

Yes. You may want someone else, like a friend or family member, to contact us on your behalf. You will need to give them your permission to do this.

If a group of international students all have the same problem, they can make one complaint to us 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. We call this 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 Commonwealth Ombudsman investigate my complaint?

When you contact us about a problem, we will carefully consider if we can help you. In some cases, we 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 seek details. When we have received all the information we need, we will decide whether your education provider has:

  • followed their rules, policies and procedures
  • treated you fairly.

We will tell you what we have decided and why.

Our Office cannot make decisions about academic merit. For example, if your provider has decided that you have not met course progress requirements, we cannot make a new decision about this.

We can look at whether your education provider followed the rules 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’s Office 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 Commonwealth Ombudsman be kept private?

To investigate a problem, we 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. We will collect, store, use and disclose your personal information under Australian privacy laws.

You can view our Privacy Statement here.

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

No, a provider cannot report you to Immigration for complaining to us.

If I complain to the Ombudsman’s Office 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 we finalise our investigation, before reporting you.

Your provider must not cancel your enrolment while we investigate your complaint.

We 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 our complaint investigation, before reporting you.

If you think your provider may have reported you already, you should contact the Department of Home Affairs immediately to discuss your visa. See: homeaffairs.gov.au for contact details.

How do I complain about the quality of an education provider?

You need to contact the Australian Skills Quality Authority if you:

  • have a complaint about the quality of a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course, or
  • have a complaint about the quality of a stand-alone English language course.

Call the Australian Skills Quality Authority information line on 1300 701 801 between 9am and 7pm Eastern Standard Time, Monday to Friday.

If you have a complaint about the quality of a:

  • higher education course
  • English language course that is a pathway to a higher education course, or
  • foundation course,

you need to contact the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

For written complaints:

Email: complaints@teqsa.gov.au

Information about their approach to handling complaints is available on their website.

Higher education providers have a responsibility to:

  • provide students with access to effective complaint processes
  • include a review by an appropriate independent third party if internal processes fail to resolve a complaint.

You should raise your complaint through your provider's internal complaint-handling process. This includes the relevant third party review mechanism where appropriate.

Your higher education provider should provide you with details of how to access the internal complaint-handling process on request.

If you hold concerns about access to your provider's complaint-handling process, contact the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

How do I complain about sexual harassment or sexual assault?

If you have a complaint about sexual harassment or sexual assault you can contact:

Further support services are available in different states and territories in Australia.

We cannot investigate harassment or assault. We can investigate an education provider's handling of a sexual harassment complaint.

How do I complain about an education provider that has closed?

The Australian Government can offer support to students if their education provider closes.

This process can help students to:

  • find an alternative course
  • get a refund for studies they have paid for but have been unable to complete.

For more information contact the Tuition Protection Service on 02 6271 3440 or visit tps.gov.au.

Help to access student records – Australian Skills Quality Authority

Complete the application for a copy of student records form if you need access to:

  • your qualifications
  • completion certificates
  • academic transcripts of results.

This form is available from the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

If you need help understanding this form, contact the Information line on:

Telephone: 1300 701 801

Email: enquiries@asqa.gov.au

Questions about your visa – Department of Home Affairs

If you have any questions or concerns about your visa, please contact the Department of Home Affairs.