The University of Cape Town (UCT) has an array of services that help students and staff members navigate life at the institution. But it's not always easy to know who to contact when you're in need, particularly in a moment of distress.
That's why the university's Academic Advising Project has developed the UCT Call Centre and Referral System (UCT_Cares). The aim of UCT_Cares is to provide the campus community with a central point of contact for the information and services they need.
"Many nodes of support already exist within the university; UCT_Cares will help students and the greater UCT community to navigate and connect to these nodes," said Dr Riashna Sithaldeen, project lead of UCT_Cares.
"It is hoped that by providing this service we will reduce some of the turmoil and confusion."
In addition to her role in the UCT_Cares initiative, Sithaldeen is also the deputy director of the Academic Development Programme (ADP) and co-principal investigator of the Academic Advising Project at the Centre for Higher Education Development. Sithaldeen is joined by Associate Professor Ermien van Pletzen who is the director of the ADP and principal investigator of the Academic Advising Project. Van Pletzen also provides project oversight for UCT_Cares.
The service, which was founded at the end of April 2020, already received and dealt with over 100 queries. Many of these queries come from students across faculties and levels of study and span a range of topics, including struggles with connectivity and financial aid.
"It is hoped that by providing this service we will reduce some of the turmoil and confusion, and time lost, that a student may experience when looking for help," said Van Pletzen.
Sithaldeen and Van Pletzen pointed out that the service is also being used by staff members who are looking for information to help students.
"To us, this shows a need for this service and that it adds value to UCT's existing support offerings," said Van Pletzen.
A lot of the work so far has seen UCT_Cares connecting students to faculties and resources such as the Student Wellness Service.
"A major highlight of this work has been to witness the incredible level of commitment many UCT staff have for engaging with and helping students, especially through this particularly difficult time," said Sithaldeen.
The UCT_Cares service can be used by anyone from the UCT community who does not know who to contact regarding questions and issues they may have. The only requirement is that the query should be UCT-related.
Queries can be sent to email@example.com. Once received, the UCT_Cares team will either respond with the relevant, general information or they will refer you to the relevant department.
Plans are underway for a call-in system and additional forms of communication, the details for which will be made known to the university community as soon as they are available.