In my second year at the University of Edinburgh, I was selected to take part in the European Student Sustainability Auditing (ESSA) project, a pilot Erasmus+ initiative organised in partnership with University of Porto and Kaunas University of Technology. The project consists of sending teams of 5-7 students from two of the partner institutions, to audit the social responsibility practices of the third.
As part of the auditing team from Edinburgh, I welcomed, in spring 2017, the teams of the other two universities. The experience familiarised me with how an audit process is conducted, with what is expected of an auditor, and made me understand the responsibility of being a representative of my university. For instance, there were times when I had to step in and clarify practices across our university, which the other students were not familiar with.
I took part in the audit of University of Porto in September 2018, my chance to take on the auditor role and put into practice what I was trained for. I gained a much better understanding of what social responsibility comprises and of the wider meaning of sustainability, which, until then, I mostly associated with the environmental dimension. I realised that ethical issues, fair trade, sustainable procurement practices and a university’s engagement with the wider community are all different facets of this concept. My knowledge broadened, as did my understanding of how difficult it is, for a large institution, to balance so many factors in its decision-making process.
I learnt how to conduct interviews, efficiently summarise information during focus meetings, extract data from documentary evidence we were provided with. I learnt about both the positive impacts and the challenges of working in international teams. For instance, the fact that we came from three very different institutions provided a context for the exchange of perspectives on how sustainability can be achieved. However, the language barrier also meant that sometimes we had difficulties in understanding each other.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to broaden my learning experience in such a unique way, by transporting it out of the classroom into a real-life context. Taking part in the ESSA project added a rich page to the memoir of my student life at Edinburgh and provided me with a set of invaluable skills which I will benefit from no matter which specific career path I will choose.
Author: Iulia / from Romania / studying Environmental Geoscience / 4th year