A complaint has been made to the Victorian State Ombudsman alleging that Federation University of Australia has acted in an unconscionable manner on a number of occasions towards an international student. The Ombudsman has been asked to investigate whether these acts were of a fraudulent nature designed to place the student under duress and pressure him into accepting another program on offer for the university’s financial gain.Chanakya Dhanani

On 11 June 2015, Federation University transferred Chanakya Dhanani from their Melbourne campus to their Sydney campus but had issued him an offer letter for a course which was not available in Sydney. After Chanakya picked up his life to make the move to Sydney, he discovered only on visiting the enrollment office, on 7 July 2015, at Federation University’s Sydney campus, that this course wasn’t operating there.

“When I went to enroll at the campus and they told me that this course was not offered in Sydney, I felt completely shocked [in]to numbness. I didn’t know what to do”, Chanakya shares.

“It took half a day of waiting before they confirmed that the program could not be studied in Sydney and by that time I was in a panic. The staff themselves didn’t seem to know what was going on”.

With only one day left before admissions closed, what should have been a happy and adventurous day for Chanakya in a new city and school, had turned into a nightmare. Later in the day, the university proposed that Chanakya be enrolled instead, into a very similar course, and that all of his previously granted credits would be transferred over to the new program.”At the time it seemed [like] a lifeline to me, at least I would not be forced to return to India when I had spent so much time and money on my ELICOS (English) program” Chanakya described.

However as outlined in the complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman, Chanakya was to discover nearly two years later, that he had been lied to.

At near the end of his two years at Federation University’s Sydney campus, Chanakya had under loaded and had still, 3 units to go. He would need to take on a further semester at Federation University. It was at this point that he was yet again taken for a spin by Federation University.

 “I received a phone call from the university staff saying that the year’s worth of credit exemptions (8 units) that was previously granted in my initial agreement, and promised when I signed the new agreement at Sydney campus, were cancelled.” Chanakya, nearly in tears, lamented that the university demanded he study all of the 8 units that he was meant to receive credits for. It is another whole year of study, another whole year of fees – study and living.

“I was in shock all over again, like when they told me they had sent me to study in Sydney for a course that did not exist here”. He explains, “The bank in India only offered the student loan for under the initial terms of a two year study period with the Federation University”.

“Now I’m faced with a complete disaster, having spent all this money, and [I] will have no degree in the end to show for it. I cannot afford another one year of expenses”.

Chanakya comes from a middle class family in India where is father in a Marketing Manager and his mother is a home maker. “They could not afford to pay for my university education in Australia so that is why I took out the student loan”.

“I was offered a place in the university in India from which I attained my Diploma of Information Technology, for a course that I could complete in just two more years of study to gain my degree. Federation University offered me the same thing, just two years of study, so I decided to give Australia a try.”

That choice to trust the Australian university nearly turned out to be the worst decision of his life.

Chanakya was at a dead end. The university wanted him to take on all the 8 units that he was meant to get credits for. At the same time, they refused to issue Chanakya a new COE to cover the last 3 units he had not managed to complete in his two years. These were units that Chanakya had already paid to study. As part of the requirements for maintaining a student visa is a COE, Chanakya would either lose his time and money and have gained no qualifications, or would have to spend a significant amount to keep his visa and walk away with a qualification.

Three weeks after the semester reopened and classes were well underway, the university relented and Chanakya was allowed to pick up his last 3 units. The university has offered no compensation or special consideration to Chanakya for forcing him to miss the beginning of his required units.

Ankit, Chanakya’s relative had accompanied him on his visit to Federation University when he first attempted to enroll at the Sydney campus, and has been emotionally supporting Chanakya throughout his journey. “We have complained to the University about the decision to revoke his credits, but instead of giving us a straight answer they treat us like dogs. They make appointments for you to discuss the issues but when you make the time and effort to get there, they turn you away stating they are too busy.”

“It is disgusting how they are acting. Not only did they cancel his credits, they refused to extend his COE for his final three units, and they had already taken the money from the bank for the Chanakya to complete these units.”

immiNews put a series of media questions to Federation University yesterday for this story which outlined the treatment of Chanakya and today just before the release of this publication we received the following response from their media spokesperson;

“Mr Chanakaya Dhanani received an offer for the Bachelor of Information Technology (Software Engineering) with 8 credits granted subject to previous study.  Due to low student numbers the program was withdrawn from delivery and Mr Chanakya Dhanani was offered a place in the Bachelor of Information Technology with credit for 8 units subject to University approval.  Mr Dhanani accepted this offer.   

Unfortunately, due to an administrative error, the 8 units of credit were not allocated against Mr Dhanani’s enrolment.   This has now been rectified, and Mr Dhanani has received formal notification of the granted credit.   We apologise to Mr Dhanani for any stress the administrative error has caused him.”

This is wonderful news for Chanakya, for he has been in been under great pressure and it has been especially difficult and emotional in these months given how he has been treated.

We’ve spoken to Chanakya about the news and he is definitely much relieved, “I really really appreciate the help you have given me”, but have also learnt that he has not been contacted by Federation University yet. We hope that Federation University will be quick to issue the COE he needs for his student visa.

Opinion: Karl Konrad

Just how does a university create an offer letter, then transfer a student to Sydney for a course that isn’t offered there? The university claimed today “due to low program numbers it was withdrawn” but only only one month after it was offered and signed? It also doesn’t match up with Chanakya’s account of what happened on enrollment day.

Sorry, but I find the university’s explanation a little hard to believe.

The Victorian Obudsman’s complaint will stand in its own right. The university’s response does not explain many other issues that Chanakya experienced, such as why he was denied access to the subjects he needed to complete his course. His treatment as an international student has been appalling.

It is good however, that Federation University has acknowledged the pain Chanakya has experienced, but I will be interested to see what the Ombudsman makes of all this.