Early history (before 1887)
The antecedent of RMIT, the Working Men's College of Melbourne, was founded by the Scottish-born grazier and politician The Hon. Francis Ormond in the 1880s. Planning began in 1881, with Ormond basing his model for the college on the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution (now a constituent college of the University of London), Brighton College of Art (now the University of Brighton), Royal College of Art, and the Working Men's College of London.
Ormond donated the sum of £5000 toward the foundation of the college. He was supported in the Victorian Parliament by Charles Pearson and in the Melbourne Trades Hall by William Murphy. The workers' unions of Melbourne rallied their members to match Ormond's donation. The site for the college, on the corners of Bowen Street and La Trobe Street, opposite the Melbourne Public Library, was donated by the Victorian Government.
Working Men's College (1887–1960)
The Working Men's College of Melbourne opened on June 4, 1887, with a gala ceremony at the Melbourne Town Hall, becoming the fifth tertiary education provider in Victoria (the Melbourne Athenaeum was founded in 1839, the University of Melbourne in 1853, the Ballarat School of Mines in 1870 and the Bendigo School of Mines in 1873). It took 320 enrollments on its opening night.
It opened as a night school for instruction in "art, science and technology"—in the words of its founder—"especially to working men". Ormond was a firm believer in the transformative power of education and believed the college would be of "great importance and value" to the industrialisation of Melbourne during the late-19th century. In 1904, it was incorporated under the Companies Act as a private college.
Between the turn of the 20th century and the 1930s, it expanded over the neighbouring Old Melbourne Gaol and constructed buildings for new art, engineering and radio schools. It also made its first contribution to Australia's war effort through training of returned military personnel from World War I. Following a petition by students, it officially changed its name to the Melbourne Technical College in 1934.
The expanded college made a greater contribution to Australia's effort during World War II by training a sixth of the country's military personnel—including the majority of its Royal Australian Air Force communication officers. It also trained 2000 civilians in munitions manufacturing and was commissioned by the Australian Government to manufacture military aircraft parts—including the majority of parts for the Beaufort Bomber.
Creation of RMIT (1960–2000)
Following World War II, in 1954 it became the first Australian tertiary education provider to be awarded royal patronage (by Elizabeth II) for its service to the Commonwealth in the area of education and for its contribution to the war effort; and was officially renamed the "Royal Melbourne Technical College". It became (and remains to this day) the only higher education institution in Australia with the right of the prefix "Royal" along with the use of the monarchy of England's regalia.
Its name was officially changed to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1960. During the mid-20th century, it was restructured as a provider of general higher and vocational education, and pioneered dual sector education in Australia. It also began an engagement with Southeast Asia during this time (under the Australian Government's Colombo Plan). In 1979, the neighbouring Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy joined with RMIT.
After merging with the Phillip Institute of Technology in 1992, it became a public university by act of the Victorian Government under the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Act 1992. During the 1990s, the university underwent a rapid expansion and amalgamated with a number of nearby colleges and institutes. The Melbourne College of Decoration and Design joined RMIT in 1993, to create a new dedicated vocational design school, followed by the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts in 1995. That same year, it opened its first radial campus in Bundoora in the northern Melbourne metropolitan area. In 1999, it acquired the Melbourne Institute of Textiles campus in Brunswick in the inner-northern Melbourne metropolitan area for its vocational design schools.
Recent history (2000-present)
At the turn of the 21st century, it was invited by the Vietnamese Government to become the country's first foreign-owned university. Its first international branch campus opened in Ho Chi Minh City in 2001 with a second in Hanoi in 2004. In 2013, it established a presence in Europe by opening a centre in Barcelona, Spain.