The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) has recently published guidance aimed at helping Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) providers understand their obligations when negotiating and documenting written agreements with overseas students. This guidance is released under Standard 3 of the National Code, which mandates ESOS providers to establish written agreements with international students, clearly outlining their obligations and rights.
The significance of a positive student experience cannot be understated, as it plays a pivotal role in fostering and upholding Australia’s robust, resilient, and esteemed international education and training sector. The quality of the educational courses and the institutions’ support services are vital in ensuring this positive outcome.
The newly released guidance material is designed to assist ESOS providers registered under the ESOS Act 2000 in comprehending their responsibilities while negotiating and documenting written agreements with overseas students.
Under Part 5 Division 2 of the ESOS Act and Standard 3 of the National Code, certain regulatory obligations exist regarding written agreements between providers and international students. ASQA strongly encourages all ESOS, and ELICOS registered providers to review the guidance and ensure compliance with these regulatory obligations.
Importance of Written Agreements
Establishing written agreements between Australian education providers and overseas students is imperative for several reasons. Firstly, agreed terms and conditions about an international student’s enrolment must be formalised into a written agreement. This agreement acts as a contract, ensuring fairness and reasonableness, particularly concerning refund terms in case either party fails to uphold their agreed commitments.
Moreover, a written agreement formalises the student’s enrolment, clearly delineating the provider’s and student’s obligations and rights. It includes vital information such as course details, entry requirements, fees, refund and cancellation policies, and the provider’s complaints and appeals processes. Providers must enter into a written agreement with the student before or simultaneously with the acceptance of course fees.
Critical Elements of the Written Agreement
A comprehensive written agreement must cover various aspects to meet the requirements of the ESOS Act and the National Code. These elements include, but are not limited to:
- Course Details: Outline the course or courses in which the student will be enrolled, specifying the expected start date, locations, and study modes, including any compulsory online or work-based training, placements, or collaborative research training arrangements.
- Prerequisites: List any prerequisites required for admission to the course, including English language requirements.
- Conditions of Enrolment: Stating list of conditions imposed on the student’s enrolment.
- Tuition Fees: Specify all tuition fees payable by the student, including the relevant payment periods and options for upfront payment.
- Non-Tuition Fees: Providing details of any non-tuition fees that the student may incur, such as fees for a reassessment of study outcomes, deferral of study, late payment of tuition fees, or other circumstances where additional fees may apply.
- Information Disclosure: Describing the circumstances in which the registered provider may disclose personal information about the student to the Commonwealth, including the Tuition Protection Service (TPS) or state or territory agencies, in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.
- Complaints and Appeals Processes: Outlining the registered provider’s internal and external complaints and appeals processes per Standard 10.
- Refund Requirements: Setting out the refund provisions in case of student or provider default, including the amounts that may or may not be repaid to the overseas student, considering tuition and non-tuition fees collected by education agents on behalf of the provider.
- Refund Claim Process: Establishing a process for claiming a refund, including identifying authorised recipients other than the student and explaining the procedure in case a course is not delivered, with a mention of the role of the TPS.
- Consumer Law: A statement informing overseas students that the written agreement does not affect their rights to take action under Australian Consumer Law, where applicable.
- Contact Details: Advising overseas students to notify the registered provider of current contact details and any changes, along with providing emergency contact information.
- Record Keeping: Stating that the student is responsible for keeping a copy of the written agreement and receipts of tuition and non-tuition fee payments.
ESOS providers must retain records of all written agreements and payment receipts for at least two years after the overseas student’s enrolment ends, complying with the record-keeping requirements of the ESOS Act and the Education Services for Overseas Students Regulations 2019.
It is important to note that overseas students enrolled in consecutive courses with the same provider do not require separate written agreements for each course. If the terms of the agreement remain the same for each course, a single written deal covering all courses is acceptable.
This guidance from ASQA aims to ensure that ESOS providers adhere to their obligations, promoting transparency and fairness in the relationship between Australian education institutions and international students. By complying with these regulations, institutions can strengthen Australia’s global education sector and maintain its reputation for excellence.
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