Global kudos for UKZN student support and wellness solution

UKZN student support services manager Dr Saloschini Pillay with the award for her digital student support and wellness programme. | Supplied

UKZN student support services manager Dr Saloschini Pillay with the award for her digital student support and wellness programme. | Supplied

Published Jun 22, 2024


Durban — A ground-breaking digital system to support University of KwaZulu-Natal students has earned global kudos.

UKZN student support services manager Dr Saloschini Pillay won the international award for her development and implementation of the university’s automated Student Wellness and Academic Transformation (Swat) assessment and intervention system.

The recognition came from Hyland UK, the developer of the OnBase software suite which drives Pillay’s system, at the company’s global summit in Johannesburg, where Pillay presented the Swat solution and received the award for best implementation of a digital solution for student support and wellness.

“This is very significant. They saw how I used their software to enhance the well-being of people. I’m actively engaging people and bringing them into a hybrid space via a digital solution,” said Pillay.

In 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, UKZN’s Student Support Services and the Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Health Sciences, (CHS) Professor Sinegugu Duma, pioneered a digital strategy to enhance student engagement and holistic wellness for sustainable academic success. Collaborating with the university’s Information and Communication Division and the Academic Computing Division, they developed an automated system integrated with the university’s learning management system.

Initially piloted with a few disciplines in 2021, the system was successfully rolled out to the entire CHS first-year cohort last year.

The automated Swat Assessment, a student-centred wellness model, evaluates holistic wellness including emotional, psychosocial, intellectual and academic, occupational and career, environmental, spiritual and culture, physical and biological and the impact of the Covid pandemic. This automated system identifies at-risk students and provides automated referrals for timely and appropriate interventions.

Pillay, who is based in the CHS, said she had implemented the wellness model for many years.

“The model is targeted at students entering the university because we know the first year is the most difficult and without support one can lose motivation or fail.

“The wellness model hones in on what the whole student is about, what are factors contributing to students’ failure and premature drop-out, and what we as an institution can do to better support such students.”

She said when Covid hit, everything moved virtually and universities moved to emergency remote teaching and learning.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to revisit how we do things and how we now can better support students in the virtual space.

“We decided to digitise the Swat intervention and that is what we’ve been working on since 2021.”

Pillay said the plan was to roll out the system university-wide with all first-year students.

The system has garnered international acclaim, with many higher education institutions recognising the significant benefits it could offer to their own student success programmes.

Independent on Saturday