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Overseas Student Ombudsman: Helping International Students Abroad

Overseas Student Ombudsman: Helping International Students Abroad

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Upon leaving the country of origin, international students leave a huge part of them which is their direct support system. Life in another country is both exciting and intimidating, especially if a student journeys on his own. Everything is new; from the environment, culture, to rules of the study destination. It is not easy, but possible to pursue study goals in life.

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What is an Overseas Student Ombudsman?

By definition, an ombudsman is an individual who deals or handles complaints with businesses and government organizations or agencies. An Overseas Student Ombudsman is the one who takes care of problems between students and private education providers. In Australia, their Overseas Student Ombudsman is active in helping international students solve issues and complaints with their education providers. This is free of charge, making it an advantage to the students. 

But what are they, really? What role do they play in the lives of international students?

Overseas Student Ombudsman: How Can They Help International Students?

An Overseas Student Ombudsman is a person tasked to act on specific complaints international students may have against private schools, universities, and colleges during their stint abroad. In Australia, the Commonwealth has a designated person to handle such complaints but only if an initial settlement with the education provider is unsuccessful.  

International students can reach out for help if their private education providers have issues with:

  • Course admission
  • Fees and refunds
  • Certain courses or regarding transfers
  • Attendance or progress in the course of students
  • Enrollment cancellation
  • Student accommodation or internship
  •  Advice regarding study program

There may be instances when an Ombudsman may not act on particular complaints, specifically if the incident in question had occurred more than 12 months prior. 

Finding Common Ground

In Australia, the office of the Overseas Student Ombudsman has received 375 complaints from international students in the period from July 1 to September 2020. According to their data, complaints came from students belonging to 51 countries, with Brazil topping the list with 14 cases presented. Majority (99 cases) of the total number of cases were about the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These were mostly about financial hardships, shift to online learning and border closures. 

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With an Overseas Student Ombudsman, issues like these can easily be tackled through a comprehensive action plan. Problems between international students and education providers can be addressed immediately, making it convenient for students to carry on with their studies. The pandemic has already burdened both international students and institutions to a great degree. As such, internal issues should be resolved so these no longer compound the burden that both parties are experiencing. 

Having this governing body protects international students. Australia is able to monitor the welfare of their foreign students, and this is something that other countries can emulate. International students must be fully supported especially during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other countries, Ombudsman services are available to guide students with problems, conflicts and concerns during their academic stay abroad. At Simon Fraser University in Canada, they have a dedicated Office of the Ombudsman open to students who have academic concerns or conflicts within the university. The office is available for consultation to discuss situations and help students develop a concrete plan to solve any issues. Other institutions in Canada also have a specific Ombudsman that guides students and their education provider concerns.

In the UK, the Office of the Adjudicator has a similar function to that of the Ombudsman. Students can seek help about problems with their higher education providers. The office works hand in hand with other organizations and the Ombudsman sector.

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How to File a Complaint

For students who believe they are not getting their money’s worth in their postgraduate programs, they can file a complaint first to the education provider. Usually, the provider is mandated to give feedback. If there is no action from their end, students can reach out to their designated ombudsman in the institution or organization. The Ombudsman can look into the matter and carry out an investigation to check both sides of the story. The issue will be studied and both sides will be checked further. The office of the Ombudsman will then send the details of the issue to the provider for immediate resolution.

The steps are very practical and students will get the support they need once everything is ironed out. Being in a foreign land itself is already stressful. That’s why giving international students the support and assurance will help them complete their programs with ease.

MSM Unify is your one-stop resource platform that connects HEIs to agents and their students worldwide. Subscribe to get the latest insights about how international students and institutions can work better towards a better future. 

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