A parent of two primary school students contacted us regarding a complaint over a fee that the education provider was unwilling to refund. The parent stated that her two kids' visa status had changed. This change in visa status meant that they were no longer international students but rather domestic students. The parent had paid for four semesters up front at the international student fee, which was significantly higher than the domestic fee. The students' visa status had changed after the first semester, and now the student had three semesters ahead of them for which international fees had been paid but where they were legally domestic students. The parent requested that the international fees that they had already paid be refunded and that they instead pay the domestic fee. The parent presented New Zealand legislation which supported her claim for a refund or partial refund. She felt that the education provider had not considered her case full and had dismissed her refund without proper reason.

The provider submitted that according to their refund policy, international fees could not be refunded. The provider stated that parents of international students can choose to pay on a weekly basis, on a semester basis, or even for several semesters at a time. Due to this flexibility in how many weeks to pay for it is clearly stated that no refunds are available. They further stated that paying for several semesters up front had given the parent a discount and that the policy is also in place to prevent parents from getting a considerable discount and then withdrawing the students after a much shorter period to receive a few weeks of education at a much cheaper rate.

How we helped
iStudent Complaints’ Resolution Coordinator contacted the involved parties and collated relevant information from the parent and the education provider regarding the dispute. The Resolution Coordinator facilitated a discussion between the parent and the provider. The facilitation provided a forum where the parent could give further context to their situation and explain that they did not want a refund due to withdrawing from the school but due to a change in visa status. Furthermore, the parent provided some background as to how this change of status had come about. She explained that the change had been unforeseeable as NZ Immigration had changed the rules for her work visa just a week after paying the tuition fee and that the change to her visa resulted in the changes to her children's visas. According to the rules when she had paid tuition, they were not eligible to obtain domestic status, but after the change they were. The facilitation resulted in the provider agreeing that the position of the parent was unique and that they would like to revisit their decision internally.

After revisiting their decision internally, the provider agreed to refund the parent the international fee for any semesters that had yet to begin but to retain the payment for the current semester as the status of the students had changed during the ongoing semester. The parent accepted this offer as fair and reasonable, and the dispute was resolved without progressing to adjudication.