The Student Counselling Unit (SCU) at the UP is focussed on providing students with adequate support to ensure that they are better equipped to approach their studies, and to make the correct career choices. Services offered by the SCU include cognitive training, academic help, individual consultations, workshops, and webinars.

Remaining true to their philosophy, which is “to make [their] services available to as many students as possible,” the unit recently introduced a new venture. PDBY asked Dr Linda Eskell- Blokland, Head of Department at the SCU, to shed some light on this venture. Dr Eskell-Blokland explained that the SCU-B is a chatbot: an automated information system that focuses on adding a human element into its interaction with the users. Its main purpose is to provide students with information, tools, and skills to better manage their studies and mental health within the university context. The SCU-B currently has three main focus areas: depression, anxiety, and general life management. It also provides links to other resources, such as the SCU careline, the student counselling centre, and other external resources.

Students can access the SCU-B through a portal on the UP Student Portal. It is accessible to all registered students at UP. Students can browse various topics, watch video material, read articles, and even complete questionnaires. The SCU-B provides the option of using its services under an anonymous identity, or student’s may elect to input their student details. The primary difference between inputting student details and using an anonymous profile is that when using an anonymous profile, students will be unable to save any of the resources for review at a later stage.

To create a safe environment for students, all the services offered by the SCU are confidential, and this includes the SCU-B. As the SCU-B encounters various user requests, it will improve and become more responsive. Students are encouraged to take some time to make use of the bot and, in doing so, help the bot to develop.

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