25 September 2023

Ombudsman shares lessons from students

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An investigation into the administration of a protection framework for international students in Queensland by the Commonwealth Ombudsman has led to the publication of an issues paper for consideration nationwide.

The Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe (pictured) said the paper detailed issues identified by his office after receiving a significant number of complaints about an education agent based in Queensland who allegedly defrauded overseas students of tuition and other fees.

Mr Manthorpe said students had informed the office that they paid the agent tuition and other fees to enrol them with private education providers in Australia and to apply for a student visa.

He said that in various cases however, the agent failed to enrol them, failed to pass some (if not all) of the fees on to the education provider, and/or lodged poor-quality visa applications that often resulted in refusals.

“As a result of the office’s investigations and the valuable collaboration and support of other Departments and Agencies, positive results were achieved,” Mr Manthorpe said.

“However, those who were not yet enrolled [i.e. intending students] fell outside of the protection framework.”

He said that while the actions of one agent were not indicative of a system failure, the incident highlighted opportunities for improvements when it came to the administration of the international student protection framework.

“Steps have already been taken by the Department of Education and Training and other international education stakeholders to make improvements, including critical incident response protocols, strengthening requirements relating to education agents and changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act to support reporting of agent performance,” Mr Manthorpe said.

“It is important that the lessons learned from this unfortunate incident are used to examine what more can be done to protect intending international students from unethical agent conduct as well as safeguarding the reputation of the Australian international education sector into the future.”

The Ombudsman’s 16-page Issues Paper can be accessed at this PS News link.

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