Complaints have been made against the University of South Australia (UniSA) to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) over the education institution’s failure to return any portion of the prepaid tuition fee amounting to AUD$15,880, to an international student who never was able to travel to Australia to start her Masters Degree.
The international student Mrs Anupamdeep Kaur, was granted her student visa for only a month before it was cancelled. The reason for cancellation had nothing to do with any of her own actions and the university were not even interested in how it occurred.
The AHRC has been asked to investigate as to how an Australian public educational institution is allowed to discriminate against international students compared to local students. A comparison has been made with local students who would have received a full refund of their fees if they like Anu, notified the university with more than 4 weeks notice of not being able to attend the course.
University of South Australia’s Hurtful Refund Policy: Anupamdeep’s Story
Anupamdeep Kaur comes from a family of farmers in the small village of Ajnauda Kalan inPunjab, North West India. Like most families in the region, her parents place the importance of education highly on their children. On average, people can afford only basic education provided at schools run by the government for their children. However, Kaur’s parents managed to send her to study at the university.
In 2015, Kaur earned her Bachelors of Arts from Punjabi University.
“[My parents] have a dream that their children study at the university. They work very hard to get us to this stage,” she said during an interview with Australian Immigration Law Services on Thursday, 13 July 2017.
She got married to Harjeet Singh and the couple has a daughter who is now nearly eight months old. Despite being a mother, Kaur has not buried her lifelong dream: becoming a successful manager in a reputable company in India.
To pursue that, the 25 year old applied to study Business Administration with the University of South Australia (UniSA) in Adelaide.
“Australia is a better place because their education system is much better. After the completion of degrees from India, students are offered with less salary packages,” she said of her reason to choose not to continue her study in her home country. “In India, there are a lot of job opportunities for International graduates.”
She paid the first tuition fee of nearly AUD16,000 to the University.
In early April this year, her application for student visa along with the permits for her husband and daughter as her dependants were granted by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). The young family was set for a new adventure in Australia.
The excitement did not last long. One month after the grant was issued, Kaur received another notification from DIBP saying that her visa has been cancelled. This ended any possibility of travel to Australia and thus was never in a position to begin her course. The reason for the sudden cancellation, she said, was due to a lie of the UniSA’s authorised education agent in India which she used for the visa application, Kaur said.
“I gave all the information required and I didn’t lie,” she said. “But [the agent] lied to me. They did not fill my online application form correctly and hide the information from the Immigration.
“I am embarrassed, frustrated, and very much disappointed with them.”
The trouble is, the University of South Australia refused to give a refund.
In their response to Kaur’s refund request via e-mail, UniSA stated that in accordance with the University’s Guidelines on payment and refund of fees for International students, she is not entitled to a refund because her visa was cancelled.
In Kaur’s case, she had sent a notification to the University more than four weeks before the start of the program and had she been a local student 100% of the tuition fee received would have been returned by the university.
Kaur said. “I am in the most devastating situation now which makes me and my family vulnerable. “I feel like [committing] suicide.”
UniSA has declined AILS’s request for a media comment regarding the anomaly of their refund policy.
Ida Sofyan (real name is not used upon request), a scholarship recipient from Indonesia, said she was never aware of such policy existing which leaves International students in a disadvantaged position when their visas get cancelled.
“That is scary,” said Ida who is currently pursuing a doctorate degree from the University of Western Australia. “The cancellation (to study at the University) does not come from the student. In my opinion, if we don’t use the service or the product, in this case the education, why should we still have to pay?”
“When a cancelled visa makes it impossible for us to study in Australia, shouldn’t the already paid tuition fee be automatically refunded?” she said. “I think it is unfair if they don’t refund the money.”
As for Kaur, she wishes that all educational institutions treat their students, both local and International, equally when it comes to facilities.
“[The incident] really breaks my heart and spoils my future,” Kaur said. “I feel embarrassed and frustrated. I have spent so much money so I could study in Australia.”
“I got the money from my grandfather-in-law, but now that the visa is cancelled, he wants his money back,” she said.
Despite all this, Kaur is determined not to be resigned to the situation.
“I want to fight for it,” she said. “Because it is my dream to study in Australia.”
Written by Ade Mardiyata
Opinion: Karl Konrad
In the past two decades we have published many horror stories of how international students have been mistreated in this country. This story of Anu and her family must rate one of the most disturbing I have experienced.
It is the opinion of this office that the UniSA has breached Anu’s human rights, in particular, Article 26 of the OHCHR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Article 26 prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination and Australia has ratified the ICCPR. In this case the decision to refuse a refund to Anu due to a formal policy may seem neutral on its face without any intent to discriminate, nevertheless we believe the policy results in discrimination because of its exclusive or disproportionate adverse effect on a certain category of persons.
In this case the UniSA has a distinct refund policy solely for International Students and thus has created the specific category of persons itself, the international students studying in Australia. You will not find the same policy being ruled upon for local students in an equal manner. There is not a single local Australian student the University would dare to deny a refund to if they have given the appropriate more then 4 weeks notification before the course commences.
Whilst we recognise the ESOS Act outlines in law specific behaviors of education providers towards international students it must not do so in a manner that would breach the obligations set out in Article 26 of the ICCPR.
Having a policy which denies a student a refund due to circumstances such a visa cancellation is not an objective or reasonable criteria.
Our office has taken up Anu’s case with the Australian Human Rights Commission to ensure nothing like this can happen again to an international student in this country and to have the UniSA pressured into returning all of her tuition fee so she can at least get on with her life with some piece of mind.
Every single person I have mentioned Anu’s circumstances to have reacted with shock and disbelief. Before this story was published I spoke personally to the UniSA publicity representative for a media comment. When I explained the circumstances regarding Anu’s case and the universities failure to refund nearly $16,000, I could tell by her voice she was quite shocked. I encouraged her to communicate with her employers that the university should do the right thing and return the money. To date this has not occurred as they have made no attempt to contact her.
What is the contentious UniSA refund policy for International Students?
3.3 Students will not be entitled to any refund of their First Tuition Payment if:
(a) they are withdrawing after their first study period census date regardless of whether they have enrolled in less than 4 courses and part of the First Tuition Payment remains on their account;
(b) their visa is cancelled;