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La Trobe University

Named after Victoria's first Lieutenant-Governor, La Trobe University in Bundoora became the State's third university.

Conceived in 1964 with a traditional curriculum overlaid by interdisciplinary and college-based teaching, and born in 1967, it matured amid a climate of declining spending and rising student numbers.

La Trobe was built on 200 ha of swampy farmland between a cemetery, a psychiatric hospital and an industrial estate. Clever landscaping that shaped flood-control measures into a picturesque stream and lakes, and a dual ring-road design that obscured the outer world, formed a campus of great beauty. A compact core of low-profiled, restrained and earthen-coloured brick buildings, created a harmony of design that has withstood 30 years of building.

La Trobe's charter left the branches of learning undefined. It began with the Humanities and the Social, Biological and Physical Sciences, the former totalling three-quarters of enrolments in the first decade. Law, Engineering and Health Sciences were added in the 1990s, the last two after amalgamations with Bendigo CAE and Lincoln Institute. Beginning with 550 students in 1967, enrolments climbed to 9000 in a decade and plateaued at 10 000 by 1987, before soaring to 26 000 students and 1000 academic staff by 2003.

Unlike the older universities, La Trobe has been an engine of equal opportunity, reaching students from socio-economic backgrounds previously excluded from higher education. Research in 1987 revealed La Trobe's students matched the State's average mix of public and private schooling; one half of their fathers were born overseas; and less than a fifth of their parents had university training. La Trobe's proportion of female students consistently topped the Australian university average, rising from less than a third in 1967 to almost two-thirds by 2003.

Bundoora is now one of seven La Trobe campuses in Victoria and six overseas, comprising two-thirds of total enrolments. Drawing students from far afield and ringed by carparks, La Trobe favours those with 'wheels'.

Richard Broome

Breen, William (ed.), Building La Trobe University: Reflections on the first 25 years, The University, Melbourne, 1989. Details