The European Students, Sustainability Auditing (ESSA) project is a three year project funded through ERASMUS+ (www.essaproejct.eu) with students from three participating universities being trained in university social responsibility (USR) auditing. The USR audit uses benchmark standards developed in a previous ERMASMUS+ project:
- Research, teaching, support for learning and public procurement: The institution’s core academic activities are underpinned by the values and principles of social responsibility.
- Governance: The principles of social responsibility are respected throughout institutional policy, strategy, procedures and processes. They permeate all levels, as an integral element of management accountability and stakeholder engagement.
- Environmental and societal sustainability: The institution is committed to environmental sustainability and biodiversity in all aspects of its operations, including in its use of goods, services and works and in its evaluation of decisions. It takes appropriate action to ensure that its commitments are realised.
- Fair practices: The institution ensures equality and fairness for its staff, students and others as appropriate and its policies and procedures are intended to avoid discrimination or inequity.
Following completion of classroom training the students then undertake a USR audit of a university. The project if a partnership led by the National Union of Students with the University of Edinburgh, Kaunas University of Technology and the University of Porto along with their respective student associations. The University of Edinburgh is leading on the assessment and certification of the student training taking a student-led and experiential-based learning approach to assessment. The course is assessed through an e-portfolio at SCQF level 10 using a modified version of the University SLICCs framework. The assessment approach, along with the course design and implementation guidance will be released as Open Education Resources in the summer of 2019.
The assessment framework has been realised as a structured e-portfolio system built using PebblePad. The e-portfolio includes detailed instructions and guidance on demonstrating learning, knowledge and understanding. The detailed rubrics and criteria used in grading the portfolios are available to students making the assessment process fully transparent to participants. The e-portfolio supports the students’ abilities in applying and critiquing knowledge as theories, models and practices of social responsibility auditing while also enabling students to validate and justify their claims for learning and competence. This approach to assessment helps students surface the sort of transferable graduate attributes that enhance their employability in a very tangible way.
Feedback from the participating students has been very positive in terms of both their own sense of their employability, working in an international setting and as an educational experience:
“Participating in the Kaunas audit has definitely given me a better understanding of how to work with people from different backgrounds and disciplines, which is an important skill that will be useful throughout my life. It has also helped me hone my skills in synthesising information, especially in a short amount of time.”
"This has been the best experience of my university education, the learning approach was practical and very beneficial!"
By April 2019, institutional audits will have been conducted at the University of Edinburgh, Kaunas University of Technology, University of Porto and King’s College London. Findings from the project have been presented at the 3rd International Conference on Higher Education Advances, Valencia, Spain in 2017 and the SRHE International Conference on Research into Higher Education in 2018. There will also be workshops in each of the partner countries in May and June with a final presentation event in Brussels in June 2019.
Dr Pete Evans