Private education providers
This page is for private education providers with international student enrolments
If you are an international student and would like information on what the Commonwealth Ombudsman does, please visit this page:
Information for international students
What we do
The Commonwealth Ombudsman:
- provides a free dispute resolution service
- is independent and impartial
- does not represent either international students or private education providers
- can make recommendations arising from our investigations.
We also provide information about best practice complaint handling. We share this information with private education providers to help manage internal complaints.
Basic dispute resolution pathway
- Student is unhappy with their private education provider’s decision or action.
- Student should:
- check their written agreement
- talk to their provider
- check their provider’s website for details about how to complain.
- Student lodges a complaint with their provider.
- If the student is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, they can ask their provider to review the decision (appeal).
- If the student is still not satisfied with the decision, they can contact us to lodge a complaint.
What providers should consider when handling a student’s complaint
- Check your records for a copy of the written agreement signed by the student.
- Ensure the written agreement is compliant with the National Code and broader Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) legislative framework.
- In making a decision, you should be guided by your policy and the National Code and ESOS legislative framework.
- Use our resources and National Code Factsheets published by the Department of Education.
- Contact the ESOS Policy Team by emailing email@example.com or call 1300 615 262.
- Consider reviewing and updating your policies if they are not working for you and your students.
Refer students to our information for international students page.
Resources for education providers
Providers must tell international students they have a right to access an external complaint and appeals body at minimal or no cost. Providers can choose whether to use the Commonwealth Ombudsman or make other arrangements. Even if you have other arrangements, if an international student approaches us, we can still investigate their complaint.
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 an education provider’s registration by visiting the CRICOS website.
An international student is a person studying with an Australian education provider and needs an Australian student visa to complete all or part of their studies. Wecan also take complaints from individuals:
- who are intending to study on a student visa
- who finished their student visa but their complaint relates to something their education provider did while they were on the student visa
- who intended to apply for a student visa, didn’t make the application, but have a complaint about an education provider’s decision during that time
Student visas are defined in the regulations to the ESOS Act. We do not consider complaints from:
- 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 your internal appeal rights and give them options for external organisations to contact, for example consumer complaints organisations.
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 tell students they have a right to access an external complaints and appeals process if they are not satisfied with the internal complaint process or outcome. The Commonwealth Ombudsman provides an external complaint and appeals process for international students of private education providers.
We helps 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 Tool for Education Providers.
We also publish other information to help education providers improve their handling of complaints, including from international students.
Students can complain about their education provider if they believe the provider did not follow the rules or treat them fairly. Complaints might be about:
- 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, a provider not issuing student results within normal timeframes or failing to provide services included in the student’s written agreement.
Can the Commonwealth Ombudsman assess complaints about academic assessment?
The Commonwealth Ombudsman can only consider complaints about academic assessment from a procedural perspective. We cannot make academic merit decisions. We cannot assess whether a student should have been awarded a particular grade or measure of competency.
If a student believes their academic assessment result is wrong, unfair, biased or affected by procedural error, we can check the provider has:
- a reasonable policy and process for assessing academic merit/competency
- followed its policy and process in awarding the academic assessment/competency result
- responded to any complaint from the student about the academic assessment result through its internal complaints and appeals process.
How long do students have to make a complaint?
The Commonwealth Ombudsman usually does not investigate a complaint where a student took more than 12 months to complain. However, we do have discretion to investigate if we choose.
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.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigates in an independent and impartial way, without advocating for the student or the provider. Complaint investigations are conducted in private and are normally informal.
When we receive a complaint, we carefully consider the information provided. In some cases, we may decide not to investigate a complaint. This is often 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 and student records from the provider.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman can use formal powers to obtain documents from the provider. We also have the power to enter premises or require a provider to answer questions as part of an investigation.
At the end of an investigation, the Commonwealth Ombudsman may conclude 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 a provider remedy the problem 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 the Office.
If we find evidence which suggests misconduct, we can notify the provider’s principal executive officer.
Standard 10.4 of the National Code 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 preliminary views 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.
Results of individual complaint and external appeal investigations by the Commonwealth Ombudsman are not generally made public.
In some cases, we may report the education provider's actions to the relevant regulator after giving the education provider an opportunity to comment.
If the Commonwealth Ombudsman publishes a formal report relating to a specific education provider, we must provide a copy to the federal minister responsible for education, after giving the education provider an opportunity to comment.
If the Commonwealth Ombudsman asked an education provider to take remedial action but the provider has declined or delayed taking that action, then we can ask the federal minister responsible for education to table a copy of the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations in the Parliament of Australia.
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 us 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, we 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.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman can take complaints about all public education providers in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), but not in any other states or territories.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has oversight of the Australian National University as the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and all providers owned by the ACT government as the ACT Ombudsman. This includes public schools, the Canberra Institute of Technology, and the University of Canberra.
We can take complaints from international and domestic students about these ACT-based public providers.
Students with complaints about public education providers in other states or territories can contact the state or territory ombudsman .
Can't find what you are looking for or still have questions? Contact us.