This page is for private education providers with international student enrolments

The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman provides support to international students. This can be a future, current or former student. We investigate complaints about private Australian education providers.

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

Our Office also provides information about best practice complaint-handling. We share this information with private education providers to help manage internal complaints.

We publish updates and issues papers on common or systemic issues identified through our investigations.

Our Office

  • provides a free service
  • is independent and impartial
  • does not represent either international students or private education providers
  • can make recommendations arising from our investigations.

Standard 10 of the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 requires private education providers with international student enrolments to have a complaints and appeals process and policy in place for students to exercise their right to access an external appeals process. This page includes information and resources for private education providers to assist them in meeting this requirement.

What we do

Our Office offers a free dispute resolution service for private education providers and their international students. Private education providers can refer international students to us after the student has exhausted their right to an internal appeal through their provider and the student is dissatisfied with the outcome (see basic dispute resolution pathway below).

Basic dispute resolution pathway

  1. Student is unhappy with their private education provider’s decision or action.
  2. Student should:
    1. check their written agreement
    2. talk to their provider
    3. check their provider’s website for details about how to complain.
  3. Student lodges a complaint with their provider.
  4. If the student is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, they can ask their provider to review the decision (appeal).
  5. If the student is still not satisfied with the decision, they can contact our Office to lodge a complaint.

What providers should consider when handling a student’s complaint

Resources for education providers

We also have resources to help your international students on our about and Tools and resources pages.

Can't find what you are looking for or still have questions? Contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions for Private Education Providers

Do I have to use the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s services?

Some providers have asked whether they have to use our services or if they can continue with arrangements they already have in place for external appeals. Standard 10 of the National Code 2018 requires providers to advise the overseas student within 10 working days of concluding the internal review of the overseas student’s right to access an external complaint-handling and appeals process at minimal or no cost. The registered provider must give the overseas student the contact details of the appropriate complaint-handling and external appeals body'. Providers can choose whether to use the Ombudsman’s Office as their external complaints and appeals body or make other arrangements.

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 an education provider is registered by visiting the CRICOS website.

Who is an international student?

An international student is someone who is studying with an Australian education provider and needs an Australian student visa to complete all or part of their studies. We can also take complaints from students:

  • who are intending to study on a student visa
  • who were previously on a student visa and their complaint relates to an action or decision that happened at that time
  • who intended to apply a student visa and didn’t make the application, but have a complaint about their education provider’s decision during that time

Student visas are defined in the regulations to the ESOS Act. We do not consider complaints from students, such as:

  • a person who satisfies the secondary criteria, but not the primary criteria, for a student visa (for example an international student's spouse)
  • an exchange student or AusAID student
  • an international student in a scheme or program approved by the Minister of Defence
  • an international student who has been approved under another scholarship scheme, or an exchange scheme, sponsored by the Commonwealth to undertake a course of study or training in Australia
  • students on working holiday or visitor visas

If you have students we cannot help, you should explain their internal and any external complaint and appeal rights to them.

Where does the Overseas Students Ombudsman fit in the National Code?

Registered education providers must have an internal complaints and appeals process for international students under Standard 10 of the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 (the National Code 2018).

Education providers must also advise students of their right to access an external complaints and appeals process if they are not satisfied with the internal complaint process or outcome. Our Office provides an external complaint and appeals process for international students of private education providers.

How can the Commonwealth Ombudsman help education providers?

We help private providers by offering their students a free and independent external complaints mechanism. This helps providers meet their obligations under the National Code.

For information on this topic, you can download a copy of our Better Practice Complaint-Handling for Education Providers Guide.

What can international students complain about?

Students can complain about their education provider if they believe the provider may not have followed the rules correctly or treated them fairly. Complaints might be about:

  • being refused admission to a course
  • course fees and due dates
  • course or provider transfers
  • being reported for failure to meet course progress or attendance requirements
  • cancellation of enrolment
  • accommodation or work arranged by a provider
  • incorrect advice given by a provider’s education agent.

We also consider cases of inaction or delay, for example, failure by a provider to issue student results within the normal timeframes or failure to provide services that were included in the student’s written agreement with the education provider.

Our Office can consider external appeals about an academic assessment result awarded to an international student from a procedural perspective only. If a student complains that they believe their provider has awarded them an academic assessment result that is wrong, unfair, biased or affected by procedural error, we can look at whether the provider has a policy and process for assessing academic merit/competency and whether the provider has followed its policy and process in awarding the academic assessment/competency result.

We can also look at whether the provider has responded to any complaint from the student about the academic assessment result through its internal complaints and appeals process. We cannot make academic merit decisions and will not make an assessment of whether or not a student should have been awarded a particular grade or measure of competency. Instead, we look at whether the provider has followed the rules contained in its academic assessment policy, and the process set out in that policy, regarding how it assesses and awards academic assessment results.

Our Office would not normally investigate a complaint where a student took more than 12 months to complain.

Can the Commonwealth Ombudsman investigate without receiving a complaint?

Yes. The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate issues of concern which come to his attention, regardless of whether an individual has made a specific complaint on that issue.

How does the Commonwealth Ombudsman investigate?

Our Office investigates in an independent and impartial way. Our Office does not advocate for the student or the provider. Complaint investigations are conducted in private and are normally informal.

When we receive a complaint, an assessment is first made about whether it is an issue we can investigate. In some cases, we may decide not to investigate a complaint. This might be because:

  • the student has not complained to the education provider first, or
  • another organisation is better able to deal with the complaint.

If a decision is made to investigate a complaint, we will ask the education provider about the problem. We may request relevant documents, or information such as student records from the provider.

The Ombudsman can use formal powers to obtain documents from the provider. The Ombudsman also has the power to enter premises or require a provider to answer questions as part of an investigation.

What happens at the end of an investigation?

At the end of an investigation, our Office may conclude that the provider has not acted unreasonably and will advise the student and the provider of this decision.

In other cases, we may conclude that the provider failed to take appropriate action or the action appears to have been:

  • contrary to law
  • unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory, or
  • otherwise, in all the circumstances, wrong.

Where that happens, we may recommend that a provider remedy the problem for example by:

  • apologising to a student
  • reconsidering a decision affecting a student
  • providing a refund
  • providing clearer information, or
  • changing a policy or procedure.

Education providers are given an opportunity to comment on any recommendations made by our Office.

If we find evidence which suggests misconduct, we can notify the provider’s principal executive officer.

Are education providers legally obliged to act on our recommendations?

Standard 10.4 of the National Code 2018 states that if any external complaint-handling or appeal process results in a decision or recommendation that supports the student, the provider must immediately implement the decision or recommendation, and/or take the corrective and preventative action required.

We give education providers an opportunity to comment on our proposed decisions and any recommendations, before we finalise a complaint or external appeal. If an education provider does not act on our final recommendations, we may report the provider to the relevant regulator for breaching Standard 10.4 of the National Code 2018.

Are results of Ombudsman investigations made public?

Results of individual complaint and external appeal investigations are not generally made public.

In some cases, we may report the education provider's actions to the relevant regulator under section 35A of the Ombudsman Act 1976 (the Ombudsman Act), after giving the education provider an opportunity to comment first.

If the Ombudsman publishes a formal report under section 19ZQ of the Ombudsman Act relating to a specific education provider, he must provide a copy to the federal minister responsible for education, after giving the education provider an opportunity to comment first.

If the Ombudsman has asked an education provider to take remedial action but the provider has declined or delayed taking that action, the Ombudsman can ask the federal minister responsible for education to table a copy of the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations in the Parliament of Australia.

Our Office also publishes an annual report describing the work undertaken in the last year with private education providers and international students. This includes reporting on complaint trends, systemic problems or broader issues that have been identified in our investigations. See: Annual Reports

Can the Commonwealth Ombudsman investigate matters that occurred before it started?

Yes, we can investigate complaints about the actions or decisions of a private registered education provider that occurred before the Overseas Students role started. However, our Office would normally decline to investigate if a student has taken more than 12 months to complain.

Do providers have to wait for our complaint process to be completed, before reporting a student for failing to meet course progress or attendance requirements (standard 8)?

The answer to this could be 'yes' or 'no', depending on when the student contacted our Office to lodge the external appeal.

The answer is 'yes' if the student contacted us within the provider's stated timeframe for lodging an external appeal.

In this case, standards 8.13 and 8.14 of the National Code require that the provider must not report the student while the complaints and appeals process is ongoing. This means the provider must not report the student for unsatisfactory progress or attendance until the external complaints process is complete and has supported the provider's decision to report.

The answer is 'no' if the student lodges an external appeal outside the provider's stated timeframe.

In this case, the provider can report the student under section 19 of the ESOS Act. However, our Office can still investigate the complaint whether or not the student has been reported.

The provisions of standard 10.4 also apply, which means that if our investigation results in a decision that supports the student, the registered provider must immediately implement any decision or recommendation and/or corrective and preventative action required and advise the student of the outcome.

Do providers have to wait for the complaint process to be completed, before cancelling a student’s enrolment for a reason other than unsatisfactory course progress or attendance (i.e. under standard 9

No. If the provider’s internal complaints process has upheld the cancellation decision, the provider can cancel the student’s enrolment, without waiting for our complaint process to be completed.