Education, higher and otherwise

There have been recent controversies and scandals in higher education in the United States. Many contributors and readers of this blog have (Irish) university connections.

Is there a discussion needed about the relevance, or not, to Ireland of these issues, which concern the question of free speech, variously interpreted? Probably so, since free speech does not defend itself, our history is hardly one of free speech, and our new (so-called) hate speech law is an undeniable, and indeed intentional, diminution of free speech. In Ireland, as elsewhere, diversity and inclusion policies do not seem to extend to viewpoint diversity.  

There is intense discussion currently in the US on these matters. Steven Pinker has trenchantly set out five principles in the Boston Globe; free speech, institutional neutrality, nonviolence, viewpoint diversity, and DEI disempowerment. Harvard Medical School’s Jeffrey Flier has summarised them as follows:

1.  Develop a clearly stated new policy on academic freedom, applied to all schools, addressing some of the ways HU failed to live up to these principles in recent years, using real cases to illustrate.

2. Adopt a new policy on institutional neutrality as relates to political and social issues, apart from those directly related to the function of the university.

3. Better define policies to rule out use of violence and intimidation within classrooms and public spaces, and establish meaningful consequences for their violation, with due process coupled with enhanced efficiency.

4. Conduct a serious, data-driven review of DEI policies and administration to clarify those elements that reflect initial and widely supported goals to appropriately promote and achieve diversity and inclusion along many dimensions, while identifying those areas where programs have failed to meet identified and valid objectives, or may have lost their way, by excessively promoting identitarian thinking and action, and casting a pall on free expression.

5. Take a deep and serious look at the extent and consequences of diminished intellectual and political viewpoint diversity within the university, and what might be done to address this while fully respecting academic freedom.

Some but not all of these recommendations seem pertinent to Irish education and indeed Ireland generally. Others are risks we should definitely guard against. 

Aviation conferences in Vienna, Nov 6th-8th 2019

Aviation Pricing: Issues and Innovations for Airlines, Airports and ATC.

The European Aviation Conference (EAC) 2019 takes place in Vienna this avyear. Complete details including booking engine on conference website EAC takes place on Thurs-Fri 6th-7th November.

This year, the EAC is preceded by the first meeting of a new organisation: the Aviation Management and Economics Conference (AMEC) conference, also in Vienna, on Wednesday November 5th. Programme here.

These meetings will  be of interest to those with an interest in aviation, whether from an academic or business viewpoint.

Booking your Place

If these questions are relevant to your work, then register for EAC 2019 at the conference website:

Further information on the EAC below the break. 

Are lower airport charges consistent with a larger investment budget? Actually, under exceptional demand growth, they’re unavoidable.

Users of Dublin airport in 2019 pay the daa up to €9.65 each time they use the airport’s infrastructure. Flying from Dublin to Stansted and back for example incurs four sets of aircraft charges, as each of the airports’ facilities are used twice.

Last month, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) proposed as part of its draft determination on Dublin airport charges that the price cap be set at €7.50 per passenger for the next five years (2020-2024). The press statement issued by the CAR stated that the proposed new price cap included all of the airport’s future investment plan, costing some €1.8bn. The CAR invited the views of interested parties by a deadline of 8 July.

The daa’s responding press statement expressed extreme concern at the proposed price cap especially because in the daa’s view the lower average charge  would not allow the airport operator to implement its investment programme.  On 14 June, the Irish Times reported that the airport CEO, Mr. Dalton Philips, had “stood down” work on new investment at the airport in protest at the proposed reduction in the price cap, seeking instead that the price stay close to €9.65 in the next regulatory period. Mr. Philips also set out the daa view on the Marian Finucane Show last Sunday morning (inter alia claiming the lower price cap would lead to a ‘yellow pack’ airport).

On the face of it, one might easily wonder whether higher (investment) spending could be funded from lower charges. This post is an analysis of that aspect of the proposed airport price cap.

Does (airport) price regulation offer lessons for protecting the public from overcharging for public investment projects?

Here is a somewhat longer version of an Op Ed I wrote for a recent edition of the Irish Independent.

The article is based on the accompanying Table, of which the current version is drawn from last year’s Issues Paper (p.52) published by the aviation regulator’s office. The Table aims to set out, comprehensively and (crucially) ex ante, all of the different ways in which a projects costs might differ from the projected costs – some good, some not so good, some catastrophic – and the appropriate regulatory policy for each.

How are we to protect taxpayers from outrageous cost escalation on public investment projects that draw from a finite pool of taxpayer funds and thereby squeeze out other plans? There may be lessons from the approach of regulatory offices that organise their assessment of capital expenditures with a view to protecting, for example, airport passengers from costs overruns on major projects such as the second terminal (T2) at Dublin airport.


Under this rather stark headline, the National Transport Authority (NTA) issued a press statement on 2nd October last, giving a little under a month for responses to be received. The NTA was proposing, for reasons set out in a consultation paper  and technical report to award a further five-year monopoly to Dublin Bus.

A decision is due from the NTA Board this month (see item 8).

On its establishment, the NTA’s first act was to award an initial five-year monopoly to Dublin Bus (as well as to Bus Eireann and Irish Rail).  Five years later, which was five years ago, a second almost-complete monopoly was awarded, except that 10% of services were to be tendered for competitively. Bus users will see that these services are just now beginning to be operated by Go-Ahead in certain parts of Dublin.

Now, the NTA proposes to tender no more. Some competition-sympathising acquaintances and I have made a submission to the Authority for its consideration. Here is the executive summary; the Association referred to is a new group, the Competition Advocacy Association (of which more later):