CSU investing $170,000 in AI chatbot

The union’s chatbot aims to answer students’ questions faster

Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

After months of planning, the Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) new AI Chatbot “Navi” is in its third testing stage and should be completely finalized by mid-April.

The idea of Navi came from Kareem Rahaman, CSU’s financial coordinator. On Sept. 13, 2023, CSU council approved the chatbot at a CSU special general meeting. 

The goal of Navi is to increase how fast students access information, whether current or future international students, by reducing the time spent on finding information on the Concordia website or having to call the university. 

According to Rahaman, Navi also aims to be a gateway between students’ needs and the CSU. He said that “if we were to see students were searching more for funding opportunities... for bursaries... we can either create more bursaries or if it's a problem they have with the university, we can press [the] university on it.” 

The project is funded by the Student Space, Accessible Education, and Legal Contingency Fund (SSAELC). According to the CSU website, “the SSAELC Fund is… used for specific projects set out in the CSU bylaws such as carrying out studies, retaining professional services and contractors.” SSAELC is part of the CSU’s fee-levy groups and costs each student $0.44 per credit. 

A total of $170,000 has been set aside for the creation of the chatbot, which includes costs for training, prompt engineering, user interface and a number of security, documentation and monitoring costs to ensure a working product. 

According to Rahaman, although he understands that the costs seem excessive, there is a reason for the spending, such as an investment in the right developer.

“When you're talking about sensitive information, like directing students and having them make life decisions [about university], you want to make sure that the person building it knows what they're doing. And that's why it's important to get someone who has experience in building chatbots,” Rahaman said. 

The CSU is hoping to lease out the chatbot to other universities once it is implemented. 

“[By] owning Nafi and leasing it out to other universities, [the CSU] is participant[ing] in an incredibly strong position when it comes to lobbying for student rights,” said Rahaman. He continued to explain that by leasing out Navi, “[it] would help us know pretty much exactly what all students around Canada are being affected by.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 12, published March 19, 2024.