It is increasingly recognized that achieving sustainability in higher education should be placed as a prioritized agenda globally [1
]. Sustainability in higher education covers education, research, operations and community outreach activities [2
]. Sammalisto et al. developed a model of sustainability competence development and investigated how it would be institutionalized in a Swedish university [1
]. Wals investigated the learning and institutionalization processes of sustainability in higher education in the context of the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UN DESD) [2
These global initiatives also inspired China’s sustainability development in higher education [3
]. Yuan and Zuo’s study of a Chinese university found that university students are aware of sustainability issues and place great importance to the social aspect of the sustainability [4
]. Zou et al. carried out a comparative case study between Indiana University in US and Tsinghua University in China and found that the former emphasizes the environmental, economic, and social aspects of university sustainability equally, while the latter focuses more on the environmental aspect [5
]. A local standard titled Evaluation Standard for Green Campus (ESGC) (CSUS/GBC 04-2013) as a voluntary scheme was launched in 2013. This standard comprises seven sections: plan and sustainable site, energy conservation, water saving, material saving, indoor environmental quality, operation management and promotion. The purpose of ESGC is to guide the achievement of harmonization between campus and the natural environment. Green campus is featured by resource reduction (i.e., energy saving, water conservation, material saving and land saving), environmental protection and pollutant minimization. It aims to provide a healthy, user-friendly, effective teaching and living environment. This standard provides an effective guideline for achieving green campuses in China.
One of the significant aspects in sustainability of higher education is the residential satisfaction of university dormitories. Along with the national strategy of accelerating urbanization in China, universities expanded their enrollment significantly. The number of higher education institution reached 2845 in 2015, as compared to 1041 in 1999 [6
]. The total number of undergraduate and post-graduate students arrived at 35 million in 2015 and annual graduates stabilized at eight million per year. The expansion of student enrollment brought about a considerable increase of new university campuses where students’ dormitory buildings are essential.
While the ESGC it raises various standards about the institution building and other supporting facilities, like canteen, office building and library, there are no specific requirements about achieving high quality dormitory operation. In addition, insufficient attention was paid to the dormitory operation compared to the plan, design and construction stages. The operation management focuses on the policies and regulations for daily operation events, but falls short of addressing the sustainability issues from the occupant perspective.
Assessing building performance from the occupant perspective is pervasive in green building development [7
]. Post-occupancy evaluation (POE), for example, involves a systematic evaluation of occupants’ opinions about actual building performance [7
]. Besides the technical aspects, POE studies increasingly emphasized social aspects, such as occupants’ behavior and experiences [10
]. Embracing occupants’ behavior and experiences in POE would help to capture building operation deficiencies [10
]. However, despite the increasing emphases on social aspects, the systems approach is seldom made explicit in the sustainable dormitory development.
This study considers POE as complex socio-technical systems. The socio-technical system approach argues that the POE exercise should not take technical and social aspects alone [10
], but should take their interaction and embeddedness feature into consideration. The embeddedness feature implies a dual effect between the POE and the social, geographical and regulatory context. One the one hand, POE is shaped by the context as the indicators of POE should reflect the contextual nature. On the other hand, the feedback collected from POE will further influence how the context would evolve.
This study aims to develop a POE tool for evaluating university dormitories grounded on the socio-technical systems approach; and identify factors contributing to students’ residential satisfaction. The findings may help designers to better understand end-users’ requirements, and provides university dormitory managers with valuable feedback on improving their services. This would further contribute to the sustainability development in higher education.
The paper is organized as follows. Section 2
presents the literature review of POE and the socio-technical systems theory. Section 3
reports on the focus group study with the aim to developing a socio-technical framework. The framework was validated through a case study through which factors contributing to university dormitory satisfaction were identified. Implications for research and practices are provided in the Conclusions Section.
3. Developing Indicators for Post-Occupancy Evaluation
This study adopted focus groups to derive indicators for the POE. Focus groups were useful for assessing complex concepts of socio-technical frameworks [59
]. This method was also employed by prior studies [60
]. In order to develop indicators for the POE of university dormitories, two types of unit of analysis (i.e., individual and interaction) were adopted [59
]. The individual unit of analysis was used to triangulate the specific indicators, whereas the interactive unit of analysis was appropriate for exploring the possible indicators [59
At the start of each focus group, participants were informed that the purpose of the discussion was to develop indicators for POE of university dormitories [59
]. The participants were thereafter required to: (1) suggest the technical and social aspects; (2) list specific indicators under each category; and (3) discuss why the categories and associated indicators are essential for the POE of university dormitories. Purposive sample strategy was adopted to select participants. The main selection criterion is whether the participants have the experience of living in the university dormitories or not. In the end, two sets of focus groups discussion were held (see Table 2
). Participants of the first focus group were excluded in the second.
After the first focus group, a preliminary questionnaire was obtained, which were then sent to the second focus group participants before the group interview. The second focus group aimed to pre-test the questionnaire. In the end, consensus was reached on a set of criteria for the POE of university dormitories (see Figure 1
, details shown in Table 3
). Participants’ comments combined with the face-to-face interview results are presented in Section 6
4. Research Methods
4.1. Research Design
A university located in the east China was selected based on its typical characteristics [61
]. Case study design was also adopted in green universities research before [1
]. This university was chosen for two reasons: it has a fairly good ranking in China, indicating that it is a satisfactory representative of the university sample; and it shares similarities to other universities in terms of university size, areas and number of students.
The new campus was completed in August 2005, coming into partial operation in September 2006. There are three dormitory districts located in three corners of the new campus, all except for the northwest direction. The library and lecture buildings sit in the middle of the campus. Each dormitory district is connected with four or eight buildings, constituting as a closed district. All buildings face north or south.
Each dormitory district has a laundry room and bicycle park. Student card could be used to pay the wash services and the entrance control system. Each dormitory building has six floors, ten rooms on each floor. Each room is 3 m in height, 18–20 m2
in area, and designed for four persons. The washing room is about 3 m2
. Typical layout of dormitory room is shown in Figure 2
. Each room is equipped with ceiling fan, air condition and water heater. Annual (two semesters) residence fee is 1200 RMB for each student.
Unlike the university dormitories of foreign countries [18
], there are no kitchen, study room, pantry, common room and television room available in this campus. This further confirms the importance of developing POE indicators for university dormitories in China as indicators developed elsewhere are not applicable to the China context.
4.2. Data Collection Instruments
The questionnaire comprises three sections. The first section asks about the general information of the dormitory. The second section covers the satisfaction measurements and ten POE components. The indicators were assessed on a five-point scale (1 for very dissatisfied to 5 for very satisfied). The third section is about the respondents’ profiles. One open question was added in the end.
After the questionnaire was initially completed, it was sent to four students who are currently living in the university dormitories to pretest the usability of the questionnaire. Feedbacks were elicited to clarify the measurement instruments and appropriateness of the terminologies. One comment provided by the four students is that the length of the questionnaire is a bit long. Therefore, to make up this disadvantage, face-to-face interviews were adopted to collect the questionnaire, although it was time-consuming. The fieldwork was carried out in September 2015. In total, 341 questionnaires were received. Since face-to-face interview was employed in the fieldwork, the same number of interviews was also conducted.
The statistical analysis covers three stages. First, t-test of the satisfaction level was undertaken to gauge students’ residential satisfaction. Second, linear regression was used to link the specific satisfaction factors to the overall satisfaction. Thus, factors contributing to the overall satisfaction were identified. Last, t-test of the POE indicators was carried out to identify the areas with which students are dissatisfied.
6. Embeddedness Features of the Socio-Technical Systems
The results show that technical aspect
of POE still constitutes the major components of POE. However, the results show that only examining technical aspects would be insufficient. POE should also pay attention to the social aspects
, which are intertwined with the technical aspects (see Figure 3
The interview results combined with the focus group studies present noticeable evidence on the embeddedness feature of the socio-technical systems. The social embeddedness feature might be reflected in four levels, namely the ease of using amenities in dormitory rooms, dormitory services, the development of college life and wider social context.
First, it is concerned with the ease of using the amenities in dormitory room. The case study shows that the windows are not reachable and some indoor areas are difficult to clean. This indicates that occupants in fact seek for adaptive opportunities, such as opening windows or adjusting furniture. This concurs with Zalejska-Jonsson [63
] and Brager and Baker [64
] who advocated user-friendly technical installations and the ability to control indoor environment. Occupants would highly value the ease of use. The operable windows, for example, would be helpful to adjust the thermal environment, increase air movement, and connect to the outdoors [65
]. Thus, the ease of use of the amenities should be taken into account in the design.
Second social aspect refers to dormitory services. It is quite often that residents’ dissatisfaction is not caused by the facility itself, but by the inferior operation and maintenance. One example is the bicycle parking where the facility is well prepared, but there is a lack of superb management service. Therefore, it requires a social aspect to complement the technical aspect in this regard.
Third, students’ life activities should be incorporated as the physical structure overall enables the students’ interactions and friendship development in their college life. For example, the provision of restaurant and recreations is important for them to develop friendship and enjoy the leisure time. However, a great deficiency currently exists.
Fourth, the POE reflects the wider social context feature. One feature is that students in Eastern countries have collective thinking. Therefore, the residence should be customized to enhance their connection and increase their sense of belonging. University life is an important experience in their life.
From the social aspect, achieving high residential satisfaction is not sole responsibility of one party, but left to the key stakeholders. These would include students, facility managers, dormitory service providers and even outside university parties (e.g., hotel, health care services, public transportation, fast express providers, restaurants and Internet providers).
The results show that POE should also take the geographic context
into consideration. It is apparent that the geographic location of the dormitory influences satisfaction. It is very common for a new campus to be built outside of the downtown. The key infrastructure nearby is deficient of providing crucial support. Moreover, China, as a developing country, is faced with a high level of infrastructure deficiency. This finding extends the scope of Amole’s study [25
] that ascertained that setting of university dormitories is only concerned with the campus environment. Although key stakeholders could be identified, it is still difficult to draw a clear scope of the geographic context [65
The results indicate that POE reflects the regulatory context
. Najib et al. [18
], for instance, found the perceived quality could contribute to the loyalty behavior (e.g., longer staying, and retention in the same house). However, this is not applicable to the China’s context as the allocation of beds and rooms are fully regulated by the facility manger. Students have no choice to select dormitory room or prefer to stay longer. When carrying out the POE, various regulations and rules should be taken into consideration.
As POE embodies embeddedness features, many facets are not pre-determined and held constant over time. This further reinforces the necessity of a participatory approach [60
]. Such participation would largely increase the understanding of the deficiency and status of the facility operation. It would also bring about a learning curve where students would acquire the knowledge of effective operation and utilization of the facilities.
Residential satisfaction of university dormitories serves as one of the significant aspects in sustainability in higher education. This study aims to develop a framework for the POE of university dormitories in China grounded on the socio-technical systems approach, and to identify factors contributing to students’ residential satisfaction. Two focus groups were carried out to build the socio-technical framework. A case study was undertaken to evaluate the post-occupancy status of university dormitories in China.
One of the key findings is that POE is a complex socio-technical system. Considering the technical and social aspect alone renders great limitations. Through focus groups, this study developed a socio-technical framework to examine university dormitories in China. This framework comprises ten intertwined socio-technical components. Five technical aspects are building appearance, use of room space, use of room amenities, use of washing room and building closures. Five social aspects comprise dormitory services, supporting facilities and infrastructure, security, surrounding environment and social activities.
Through a case study of a typical university dormitory, it is supported that the socio-technical systems framework is valid to the POE for the university dormitories. The case study results show that respondents indicated a high level satisfaction with the university residency in terms of the basic functions. However, they face deficiencies in the social aspect of providing quality services. This indicates “hardware” nowadays could meet students’ requirements, whereas the “software” is still less competent.
Another important finding is that the POE is embedded into the social, geographic and regulatory context. The social embeddedness feature might be reflected in four levels, namely the ease of using amenities in dormitory rooms, dormitory services, the development of college life and wider social context. Given the unique embeddedness feature, it is noted that indicators under the ten POE components might not be generable to other geographic contexts. However, the socio-technical framework will be helpful to customize POE indicators to different geographic regions.
This study contributes to the knowledge by presenting a socio-technical framework of POE and its embeddedness feature. The practical implications of this study are twofold. For feedback, this study identified the drawbacks for current university dormitory operation. This will provide facility manager with clear understanding of the problems in the dormitory operation. For feed-forward, this study provides design professionals with important guidance for university dormitory design. It is also informed that designing should well recognize “one size does fit” all due to the evident embeddedness feature of POE.
One limitation of this study is single case study research. Although a typical case of university dorms examined in-depth would generate rich data and evidence [1
], the generalization of the studies to other context should be taken with care. It is also suggested to adopt a participatory approach in enhancing residential satisfaction. As can be seen from the results, the satisfaction is not achieved through the provision of high quality facilities, but an integration of the technical and social aspects. There exists a clear learning process after occupancy.