Independent National Student Ombudsman to improve student safety

An independent National Student Ombudsman will be established to investigate student complaints and resolve disputes with universities.

The new Ombudsman is part of the Action Plan to address gender-based violence in higher education, agreed to by Education Ministers today.

The Action Plan was developed in response to the Universities Accord Interim Report.

The Ombudsman will allow all higher education students to escalate complaints about the actions of their higher education provider, including complaints about sexual harassment, assault and violence.

The functions of the Ombudsman will include:

  • considering whether decisions and actions taken by providers are unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, discriminatory or otherwise wrong
  • responding to a complaint while a provider is still considering the issue if there are unreasonable delays, or the provider is acting unreasonably
  • recommending a provider takes specific steps to resolve the complaint
  • sharing information with relevant regulators for further compliance action if needed, and
  • offering a restorative engagement process between the student and the provider.

The Government will now prepare legislation to establish the Ombudsman. 

A National Higher Education Code to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence will also be established.

The Action Plan will bring greater transparency and scrutiny across the sector, including student accommodation providers.

Urgently addressing sexual assault in universities was one of five priority actions from the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report.

The Action Plan has been informed by consultation with students, staff, victim-survivor advocates, higher education sector and subject matter experts, including the CEO of Our Watch, Patty Kinnersly, and across governments.

The Action Plan will contribute to the work to end gender-based violence in one generation as outlined in the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032, which is being led by Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP.

The Action Plan is available here.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Education Jason Clare:

“Universities aren’t just places where people work and study, they are also places where people live, and we need to ensure they are safe.

“According to a recent survey, 1 in 20 students experienced sexual assault since they started university and 1 in 6 have been sexually harassed.

“Not enough has been done to tackle sexual violence in our universities and for too long students haven’t been heard. That now changes.

“The National Student Ombudsman will be independent and have the powers to investigate complaints and resolve disputes with universities.

“I want to thank Sharna Bremner from End Rape on Campus, Camille Schloeffel and Audrey Mims from the STOP Campaign, Renee Carr from Fair Agenda, Dr Allison Henry and all those who have fought for this.”