Decision concerning amount of refund due following student withdrawing from course 5 days after course commencement – complaint dismissed

Tuesday, June 6, 2017
S V P [2017] ISC June 2017

Summary of Complaint

  1. This decision relates to a complaint lodged by “the Student” against their former Education Provider, (“the Provider”).
  2. The Student enrolled in a 12 week, full-time course with the Provider in March 2016, paying the full $1,840.00 fee prior to the course commencement.
  3. The Student withdrew from the course five days after it commenced and received a 75% refund of the course fees that were paid.
  4. The Student does not believe this refund to be a fair or satisfactory and has made a complaint to the International Student Contract Dispute Resolution Scheme on 18 October, 2016.
  5. Individual meetings took place in March and April 2017, from which a resolution could not be reached. I now proceed to issue an adjudicated decision on the complaint.

Outcome

  1. In accordance with refund policy available on the Provider’s website, the Provider must refund: “all fees paid less an administration charge based on actual costs incurred. The maximum percentage of the payment, or sum of any payments that may be retained is 25%.”
  2. I consider that at least $460.00 accounted for in the cost estimate checklist, are reasonable administrative charges that have been incurred by the Provider.
  3. I find that the Student’s complaint is not upheld and no award is made in this matter.

Background

  1. In March 2016, the Student accepted an offer to study with the Provider. The acceptance form records a start date of 28 March 2016. The offer of place form indicates that the length of programme is 12 weeks.
  2. On 31 March 2016, the Student advised the Provider via email that he wished to withdraw from the course. After being advised that a form must be completed in person, it appears this was completed prior to 4 April, but is not disputed to have been any longer than 5 working days from the beginning of the course.
  3. The Student emailed the Provider on 15 April to advise that he had now been made aware of the 25% or $460.00 that was being retained by the provider and advised that he did not agree with the value of the cost.
  4. From the correspondence chain provided by the Provider, it does not appear that the Student received any further written communication about the refund from 15 April until he followed up on 9 December asking again for a full refund including the $460.00 that had been withheld.
  5. The Student lodged a complaint with iStudent complaints on the 18th of October to seek a resolution in this matter.
  6. On 16 December, 2016, the provider wrote to the Student by email and advised him of the refund policy which I note is available on the Providers website. The refund policy states: “If the course is over 12 weeks and the student cancels in the first 10 working days we will refund all fees paid less an administration charge based on actual costs incurred. The maximum percentage of the payment, or sum of any payments that may be retained is 25%. A request for cancellation/withdrawal must be completed in writing by the student.”
  7. In accordance to this policy, the Provider advised that “No further refund will be made”.
  8. The Student advised via email on the same day that he had “multiple issues with this”. His complaint is listed as 8 points as follows:

I applied for a course and then pulled out five days after it began. I was given a refund minus 25% for 'admin' costs. I have multiple issues with this.

  1. I signed a contract and nowhere on it was it mentioned regarding a refund or the process around it. I have never had this communicated in any other way at all. Given this, I should not have to have anything taken from me.

  2. The form I signed only had 'tuition fees' - there was no breakdown of other fees, even though they were listed on the form. If you did not break down a cost for admin fees (on the form as '$0.00), how can you make them up in retrospect.

  3. The fees you have listed as admin fees in the refund letter you sent me have been manipulated to make up to 25%.

  4. You have listed up to 25% as a refund but it appears there is no 'up to', it is a straight 25%.

  5. You didn't return the documents to me within the 10 working days that you stated (sent 1 April 2016, refunded 17 May!)

  6. My coordinator told me that she would not support me with the refunding as I decided not to study with you (I had mentioned that I had passed another test for English elsewhere so it then made no sense for me to do it again which is the reason I needed to stop this course).

  7. I have had lengthy conversations with other people involved in this who pass the buck to someone else - I have been promised a full refund) but nothing has happened

  8. The Pastoral code of Practice has not been followed.

  1. As part of the iStudent Complaints process, the Provider responded to each point individually and this has been considered as part of the adjudication process.

Student’s Position

  1. The Student’s position is that the amount retained by the Provider should be for ‘administration’ costs only, and notes that the offer of place showed only ‘Tuition fees’. Further, the Student argues that the costs provided in the refund summary have been fabricated to reflect 25% of the total fee paid.

Provider’s Position

  1. The Provider’s position is that the matter was dealt with according to the clearly outlined and available refund policy and that while they acknowledge the refund could have been processed quicker, the amount refunded was in line with the policy and the relevant requirements of the Pastoral Code of Practice.

Discussion

  1. There are two questions the International Student Contract Dispute Resolution Scheme must determine:
  1. First, whether the 25% withheld by the Provider was appropriate.
  2. Second, if so, were the charges as claimed by the Provider, that made up the 25% of the course fees correctly identified ‘administration costs incurred’ as required by the Provider’s refund policy.
  1. To determine the first part of this question, I must consider the Providers refund policy. As discussed at [14] the policy is clear and is readily available to the Student and public on the Providers website. The Provider also believes that this would have been made available to the Student at the time the Offer of Place was issued.
  2. There is no dispute that the Student withdrew in writing within 10 working days of the course commencement date. Accordingly, the refund policy applies.
  3. The second part of the policy states that the Provider may retain 25% of the course fee ($460.00 on this instance) for actual, administration costs incurred.
  4. As such, in order to determine the second question, I must establish whether the costs provided by the Provider in the ‘Cost Estimate Check-List’ could be considered reasonable expenses.
  5. While I do not agree with the administration fees relating to the processing of the Student’s refund being included in the costs incurred, I do note that the total costs incurred is stated at $900.00 and find that costs in excess of $460.00 are reasonable costs incurred by the Provider such as; the preparation of teaching resources, marketing and enrolment processes and initial account fees.

Conclusion

  1. In the circumstances of this complaint, the Provider reimbursed 75% of the course fees in accordance with their refund policy.
  2. I find the 25% retained by the Provider to be an accurate reflection of administration costs incurred and in turn that the refund policy has been applied appropriately.
  3. The proposed decision of the International Student Contract Dispute Resolution Scheme is that the Student’s complaint is not upheld and no award is made in this matter.
  4. The parties were invited to provide any final comments on this proposed decision within 10 working days of it being issued, before the decision is finalised.

Final Decision

  1. The proposed decision as set out above, has been provided to both the Student and the Provider.
  2. The Student advised that he disagreed with the decision made by iStudent Complaints.
  3. In the absence of any further evidence or submission, the reasoning and proposed conclusion to this complaint as set out above are confirmed. The final decision of the International Student Contract Dispute Resolution Scheme, is that the Students’ complaint is dismissed.

 

Dated: 06 June 2017 
Anthony Syder
Resolution Practitioner
International Student Contract Dispute Resolution Scheme