Australia's largest university since the 1990s, and through its international student program one of the nation's 200 largest exporters, Monash University was named after World War I general and first head of the State Electricity Commission, John Monash. Victoria's second university, situated on a 100-ha site at Clayton, 20 km south-west of the CBD, was founded by an Act of the State Parliament in 1958. The interim council under Chancellor Robert Blackwood chose British professor of engineering, Louis Matheson, as the first Vice-Chancellor (till 1976).
Teaching began on 13 March 1961 with 363 students. The University offered undergraduate and postgraduate courses in engineering, medicine, science, arts, economics and politics, law and education and was quickly recognised for its research excellence in the science-based disciplines, innovative teaching in law and medicine, and interest in East and Southeast Asia. Together with the University of New South Wales, it was a major provider of places to Asian and Pacific students under the aid-based Colombo Plan. In the late 1960s it also attracted national attention as the centre of student radicalism, controversy arising when leader, Albert Langer, was prevented from re-enrolling on academic grounds.
During Ray Martin's term as Vice-Chancellor (1977-87) federal funds were frozen and there was little growth in student numbers, though the University enhanced its role in the arts. By the second half of the 1980s it was preparing for another phase of transformation, responding to new Commonwealth policies on higher education introduced by John Dawkins. The Minister encouraged institutional mergers and permitted selective fee-charging. Under Vice-Chancellor Mal Logan (1987-97) the University grew from 14 003 to 42 044 students. Despite some opposition among staff, it merged with institutes of technology at Caulfield, Frankston and Churchill in Gippsland, and the Victorian College of Pharmacy, and opened a new campus at Berwick. To the original faculties, business (later merged with economics), information technology and pharmacy were added.
Monash researchers led Melbourne's IVF program, and important advances were also made in chemistry, and in philosophy through the work of ethicist Peter Singer. The University also gained a new reputation for entrepreneurialism, enrolling 6491 mostly fee-paying international students, three-quarters from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia by 1997. Administrative and financial systems were overhauled under comptroller and general manager Peter Wade, and a $100 million Monash Foundation was built. By the year 2000, of the University's income of $559.1 million, 37.9% was from fees and charges and 39.9% from government taxation revenue. Under Vice-Chancellor David Robinson (1997-2002) Monash continued to expand its global role, opening campuses in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Johannesburg (South Africa). A vigorous manager who had an eye for the selection of a good faculty dean - in many respects still the pivotal leadership position at Monash - Robinson's tenure was cut short when cases of plagiarism in his sociological work of two decades before came to light, and he had to resign.
After a year under the capable stewardship of Peter Darvall, former dean of engineering and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development) since 1993, the University appointed the dean of medicine at the University of Melbourne, Richard Larkins, as its leader. In his first year, Larkins emphasised the need to lift research performance, said the future Monash would develop less through quantitative expansion than through improvements in quality, and talked of the need to pursue not just the private interests of the University but its public contribution both at home and abroad. It was ironic that it was under Larkins' leadership that the University was obliged to develop full-fee under-graduate programs and increase the cost of Higher Education Contribution Scheme places. The University, cash-strapped like all Australian universities, could hardly turn its back on the opportunity to generate extra income, but the Vice-Chancellor made it clear that it would have been better if government had increased its funding contribution.