This large multi-level university originated in 1887 as the Working Men's College, brainchild of Scottish-born philanthropist and pastoralist Francis Ormond, whose generous endowment helped bring it into being. Despite its name, however, and the significant role of the Victorian Trades Hall Council in its genesis, its student body was never confined to one social class or to males.
Initially it offered only single subjects, such as carpentry, cookery, dressmaking and needlework, chosen to meet demand. Imbued with the highest ideals, its governing council declined to sell students the articles they made in class for fear 'of the commercial element interfering with the educational'. Full courses were introduced from 1899, but although expansion was steady, they remained principally confined to the fields of technology (including engineering, applied science and trade apprenticeships) and applied art (including architecture) until the 1940s. Business courses were then added to cater for Australia's growing industrial complexity.
After several name changes, to better reflect its activities and enhance its status, the college became the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1960. With rising demand for tertiary education, it enjoyed a significant growth spurt from 1967 to 1976. The curriculum became increasingly varied, embracing everything from surveying and accountancy to librarianship, journalism and neurophysiology. Diversity was facilitated by the location of the main campus in Central Melbourne, where, being easy to reach by public transport, it draws on a large catchment area capable of supporting low-demand courses.
In 1992, in line with the federal government's policy of creating a more efficient, unified tertiary system, RMIT amalgamated with the Phillip Institute of Technology and fulfilled its long-desired goal of attaining university status. Reflecting its view that the 'past model of a university is outdated', it has a higher education sector and a vocational education and training sector. The former offers primarily degrees (both undergraduate and postgraduate), the latter - located mainly in South Carlton and Brunswick - apprenticeships, diplomas and certificates. By 1996 their curricula had been integrated, permitting easier movement from one to the other.
Phillip's Bundoora campus, some 18 km north-east of the city, has been enlarged by the purchase of 110 ha in Bundoora East. Here a technology estate is being created, where teaching and research will interact with high-technology industries. Facing substantial federal funding cuts, RMIT University greatly expanded its entrepreneurial activities in the 1990s, especially welcoming growing numbers of fee-paying overseas students and opening its first offshore campus in Penang.