Travel Cost and Dropout from Secondary Schools in Nepal

Recent working paper:

Distribution of one-way travel time to lower secondary and secondary public schools in Nepal. Children enrolled vs. children dropped out.
Distribution of one-way travel time to lower secondary and secondary public schools in Nepal. Children enrolled vs. children dropped out.

The study relates the association between travel time to the lower secondary and secondary public schools of Nepal and the dropout grade before leaving secondary school using an ordered logit model. It is shown that as the travel time to the school increases, students are more likely to dropout from the school system in earlier grades. The results from this study will be useful to policymakers, especially from developing countries, as it places transport in the context of education.

Mo’ Rankings, Mo’ Bragging

I posted skeptically late last year On Academic Rankings. Some new rankings have come out, so it is time to brag or fret some more. The world renowned ARWU has come out with new rankings for Civil Engineering, and better still, for Transport.

I am pleased to report Sydney comes in 7th globally in Transport. None of this is my doing, I just got here, but nevertheless it is good to hear.

ARWU Transport Rankings

World Rank Institution* Country Total Score Score on
1 Delft University of Technology 274.9 100
2 Beijing Jiaotong University 267.5 79.9
3 University of California, Berkeley 265.5 86.3
4 University of Leeds 245.6 72.6
5 National University of Singapore 241.8 61.8
6 The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 237.4 51.1
7 University of Sydney 236.7 78.7
8 The Hong Kong Polytechnic University 234.7 62.8
9 The University of Texas at Austin 230.9 73.8
10 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 228.7 69.3
11 University of Maryland, College Park 228 74.9
12 Purdue University – West Lafayette 224.9 74.3
13 Georgia Institute of Technology 224.4 67.8
14 Tsinghua University 223.2 74

This is not how I would rank the universities, but feel free to look at the methodologies and construct your own.

The ARWU indicators and methodology are provided at:

Sydney comes in at 32 globally in Civil Engineering (a bigger arena than transport usually). Again I am not responsible, and this is not how I would rank them, and it sure is puzzling how this is how it came out, and sadly we are behind local rival UNSW, but that is being worked on …

ARWU Civil Engineering Rankings

World Rank Institution* Country Total Score Score on
1 Tongji University 313.1 100
2 Lehigh University 252.1 39.7
3 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich 250.9 63.9
4 The University of Texas at Austin 248.8 66.2
5 Polytechnic University of Madrid 226.9 59.4
6 Tsinghua University 226.1 85.8
7 National Technical University of Athens 217.2 54.7
8 University of California, Berkeley 213.7 72.6
8 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 213.7 67.9
10 University of Canterbury 204.2 36.4
11 The University of New South Wales 202.4 59.2
12 Western University 201.9 42
13 University of California, San Diego 197.3 39.6
14 Nanyang Technological University 192.8 56.4
15 University of California, Davis 189.9 56.1
16 University at Buffalo, the State University of New York 185.3 40.3
17 The University of Tokyo 183.9 47.1
18 Texas A&M University 183.7 77.8
19 University of Toronto 181.7 50.9
20 Purdue University – West Lafayette 180.2 63.6
21 Dalian University of Technology 176.2 75.8
22 The Hong Kong Polytechnic University 174.4 76.6
23 Seoul National University 174.3 56
24 The University of Hong Kong 174.2 56.4
25 Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne 173.8 53.8
26 Delft University of Technology 173.3 75.5
26 University of Stuttgart 173.3 36
28 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 172.8 59.2
29 McMaster University 172 36.4
30 Harbin Institute of Technology 171.7 69.4
31 Southeast University 170.6 73.8
32 University of Sydney 169.5 43.9
33 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 168.3 48

Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Civil), University of Sydney

The University of Sydney just prepared a video on our Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Civil) program. The video is below. …


Civil engineering is a broad profession that combines functional solutions with creativity and innovation to improve society. Civil engineers are responsible for the design and construction of such things as buildings, towers and transport infrastructure in addition to the design and management of gas and water systems and irrigation systems.

Our Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Civil) degree provides you with a suite of embedded technical and professional skills to create infrastructure that improves lives throughout the world.

Throughout this four-year degree you will study a series of core units as you master the foundations of civil engineering, with the option of then specialising in an optional major, including construction management, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structures, transport engineering or humanitarian engineering – the first of its kind in Australia. You will have the opportunity to gain invaluable hands-on industry experience through internships as well as the option to utilise your knowledge in a engineering fieldwork trip to a developing country.

For more:…

Recruiting students

As a new academic staff* of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, I am recruiting graduate students.

A current list of my PhD and research master’s project opportunities can be seen here:

PhD and master’s project opportunities


An overview of the application process is outlined at

When lodging an application for admission, you are expected to have already discussed your research proposal with a potential supervisor (me), and will need a support letter.

You will need to draft a statement of research interest, this typically includes a proposed topic area, a review of research already in that area, specific research questions, and a brief idea of how the research will be conducted. I will review that with you, and if I am interested, may support your application. Even with the support of a potential supervisor, you will still need to meet the University of Sydney’s rigorous graduate admission criteria, and opportunities with financial support available are even more competitive.





* I am “academic staff” not “faculty”, the “faculty” is the “college”, a college is basically some hybrid between a “house” (in the Harvard system, without quite the percentages) and a “fraternity/sorority” in the land-grant system. Also the “school” is the “department.”


What if the University of Minnesota had 100,000 students?

This is a thought experiment.

According to the US Department of Education (reported in wikipedia), the University of Minnesota has (Fall 2013) 63,929 students, ranking 19th in the US. Of course, many of those larger schools are for-profit, non-residential, cater to part-time students, or college systems. Among “peers”, (land-grantish research schools) larger schools include Arizona State, Central Florida, Ohio State, and Maryland.

Alternatively, the Twin Cities campus is the 9th largest public university in the US by enrollment, with 48,308 students (undergraduate about 34,500), falling several places, and several thousand students from 2009, when it was 4th.

But US universities are pikers compared to some others in the world. The National Autonomous University of Mexico has over 324,000 students. The University of Paris has XIII parts, which collectively have about 330,000 students.

There are numerous economies of scale to be had from a larger school (i.e. costs rise sub-linearly with the number of students because the delivery of education has a large fixed cost component like buildings and chairs and lectures and software and administration), and the evidence about quality of education with size of school (and even to an extent size of classes) is mixed (though everyone seems to like smaller classes better). (The evidence about student satisfaction tends to favor small elite liberal arts schools with a lot of hand-holding, land grants like the University of Minnesota will never compete in that market). These economies of scale should lower per pupil costs. Rankings like US News favor small class sizes, but also favor large universities.

Clearly the University of Minnesota rejects more students than it accepts (it has a 44% acceptance rate). If it just one year raised that to 88% several things would happen. First there would be more students (though it is not clear enrollees would double, more than double, or less than double, since rejected students might be more or less likely). Second, because it lost some of its exclusivity, fewer top tier students would apply. Many faculty would similarly find alternatives – not wanting to deal with the headaches twice as many students brings, though I imagine teaching slots would be filled with the glut of PhDs on the market in most fields. Class sizes would undoubtedly increase, but more classes could be offered. [After World War II, Georgia Tech, which saw an influx of GIs, expanded its night school, so that there would be a full second shift of courses]. Yet the quality of the University would on average drop.

Trends working in the opposite direction of increasing campus size include MOOCs, encouraging more online, distance learning. Getting those to work well has been difficult, and they are yet to be mainstream. Moreover a seldom-stated purpose of university, keeping students out of the labor market and in a semi-protected environment between home and the harsh cruel world cannot be accommodated with MOOCs. Demographics also move against rapidly expanding university size overall. However any one university should be able to increase market share, both with domestic and international students. Another purpose of university, providing a mixing bowl for organization of individuals into groups and couples, requires in-person attendance.

However if this were done more gradually but intentionally, with an aim of attracting more and better students, it should be possible to grow the campus to 100,000 over a decade or two.

From a physical perspective, the campus has significant room to grow, especially to the North East, but also infill and intensification to the south-east, north, and on West Bank. Even more growth is possible on the St. Paul campus, which abuts the largely underutilized State Fair Grounds.

My guess is doubling enrollment would require far less then twice as much new classroom space, about a doubling of dorm and residential space, a bit less than doubling of graduate student offices and labs and faculty offices – less assuming many of the new teaching responsibilities would be borne by adjuncts rather than regular faculty.

Around campus, business would boom. New apartments, with ground floor retail and restaurants would fill in any of the empty parcels of Stadium Village and Dinkytown and West Bank.

Transit ridership to campus would more than double, since the capacity for cars on campus would decrease significantly (all those new buildings will use up surface parking lots, reason itself to support an expansion, pedagogy be damned) while total travel demand in terms of trips to campus rose.

Such a change would challenge Boston’s 250,000 students (not sure how this was calculated, must be “Greater Boston”) as the lead college town in the US. According to city-data, Boston’s college population is 14.6% of the total. The City of Minneapolis has 11.3%, near the top for large cities. Increasing enrollment by 50k students would increase the share of the City’s population in college by up to 12% (depending on where they lived, the maximum assumes they all live in Minneapolis proper), putting Minneapolis at about 23%. Clearly much of Boston’s attractiveness to college students is the surfeit of students already there. We don’t really operate in that league here yet.

If we think of college as a temporal port, just as immigrants from Europe used to land mostly in New York, and occasionally disperse from there, immigrants from youth land in college, and disperse slowly from that point. This should greatly increase innovation, as the region’s engine of growth scaled up and the region attracted boatloads of Generation Z/Post-Millennials to its lake shores.

MARC – Multi-Agent Route Choice Game

Our  Multi-Agent Route Choice (MARC) game is designed to engage students in the process of making route choice, so that they can visualize how traffic gradually reaches a user equilibrium (UE). In addition, the Braess’ paradox phenomenon, a concept not generally taught by undergraduate transportation courses, is embedded into the game so that students can explore this phenomenon through game-play.

The software, developed by Xuan Di, is now available for download.

The paper evaluating the application is now available:

School Miles vs. School Choice

The urbanist community has a nit about neighborhood schools. At one level. If all schools were interchangeable (like we imagine fire stations to be), people should use the closest one (just as you want the nearest fire truck when there is a fire). This is a “simple” covering problem in operations research, where you try to locate a set  of facilities (say schools) to serve some number of people (say on average 500 students)  at the lowest possible transportation cost, perhaps subject to some maximum transportation cost (no school is more than 12 minutes away).

Once upon a time (about the same time as all the model railroads in the world are set, that is, c. 1950, at the cross-over between Steam and Diesel so you can use both trains on the same layout), schools may have been interchangeable, since people were obviously undifferentiated.

I went to elementary school in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland, [in a generally well-off, well-educated suburban county with far more racial and income diversity than suburban Minnesota] where the elementary school was designed as the centerpiece of the Neighborhood, and the middle and high school were the center of the Village. Since the land use was planned along with the schools, it was probably as close to optimal at the time as any place in America.

I am old, so this was before the era of magnet and charter schools.  Most of the time I could walk home from elementary school (for a few years I was basically across the street). If I remembered my childhood fondly as an elysiatic paradise, (sadly for a variety of reasons, I don’t), I might want to impose that on future generations. Even then, there was school choice. Students could attend any public school which was not over-crowded. I attended an out-of-Village Middle School (which was in fact closer to my house).

It turns out however, that demographics change. Neighborhoods with lots of 5 year olds in 1972 have many fewer today. The best location for a school in 1967 is not the best location in 2017.

It also turns out that economies of scale change. The ideal size of school in 1967 according to 1967 standards is not the same as today. Schools are typically larger to provide more services, more diversity, and so on. [This has probably reached the point of negative returns, and is to the detriment of educational quality. Minneapolis’s Hans Christian Anderson Open School has 1000 students.]

Further, it turns out that many urban parents are tired of the poor quality of urban schools, so many systems, including Minnesota have moved from a “single provider” model to a “single payer” model. This is the core of the Charter School movement, and is definitely popular among those who send their offspring to Charter Schools, if not every teacher’s union (for the record, my mom was an NEA member, now retired) or the establishment Department of Education, for the same reason entrenched interests always oppose change. Magnet schools are another response, within the existing public school system.

Both charters and magnets increase the transportation miles of children traveling to school. This is an expected outcome, and produces the usual side-effects.

Travel to these choice school may be undertaken with buses or parents driving (or biking for some older kids or nearby kids, or walking for really nearby kids, as there will always be some). But it will certainly be more motorized than students who are captive to neighborhood schools.

Charters and magnets also are designed to increase the quality of educational outcomes.  If that has on average occurred — I believe it has (See: The Unappreciated Success Of Charter Schools), as do other parents who send their children there (otherwise they wouldn’t) — then we are trading off quality of education for transportation costs.

We trade-off all the time.

  • We don’t require you take the job nearest your house, though that would reduce distance traveled.
  • We don’t insist you buy groceries from the nearest supermarket, though this would reduce distance traveled.
  • We don’t ask you to go the nearest college, and in fact encourage you to travel to see more of the world.


Why do we believe elementary school education (which by programming minds is far more important than grocery shopping location which is merely filling stomachs with different sources of calories) is somehow completely substitutable?

Why do we denigrate the professionals providing education by asserting they are interchangeable parts?

Why do we diminish children by asserting they are indistinguishable and whose needs can be best met only at the closest school?

The whole argument is basically dehumanizing those both learning and teaching for the sake of nostalgia, congestion (which “urbanists” like, right? Isn’t congestion a measure of vitality.), theories about public health (the evidence relating built environment and physical activity is weak at best), and pollution (will this argument actually change if we used electric vehicles powered by renewables?)


If local schools are best for your child, you should send her there. Maybe she can walk or ride a bike. Fantastic, we all win.

If another school is best, you should send your child to that school. Maybe she can take a bus. She we will get the best education possible, maybe go to an Environmental Magnet school, and hopefully learn other ways to reduce the negative effects of human life on earth.

Don’t assume what is best for your child is best for all children and their families, or what is best for the environment in the short run is best for the children, and don’t be sanctimonious.

Video: Timing Traffic Signals: Example

(from the Introduction to Transportation Engineering Series)

Video: Traffic Analysis at Signalized Intersections: Example

(from the Introduction to Transportation Engineering Series)