Founded on philanthropy

RMIT University is a product of the aspirations of a city and its people, built on a culture of philanthropy going back more than 120 years.

In 1882, RMIT's founder, Melbourne philanthropist and grazier Francis Ormond, lit the spark that would eventually become RMIT. He pledged of £5,000 to build a working men's college, and challenged his fellow citizens to match his contribution.

Melbourne's growth

After the sudden riches of the gold rush in the mid-19th century, Melbourne had grown into the more sober wealth brought by agricultural expansion. But its future lay in trade and industry. The economy and the society required better educated workers - literate, numerate and technically aware, endowed with new skills for a rapidly modernising world.

The Victorian Trades Hall believed that education would help working men and women find dignity and prosperity. In support of Francis Ormond's contribution, Trades Hall secretary William Emmet Murray threw himself into fundraising for the proposed working men's college. The unions levied members who, through thousands of small donations, many of just a few shillings, amassed more for the college than they had for their own Trades Hall building.

The government provided the land on which the first building was raised, and the Working Men's College, as it was then known, was founded in 1887.

Humble beginnings

Money was tight. The priority was to build spaces in which the men and women who flocked to the college could be instructed, mainly at night. So Building No.1 was literally built from back to front. First came the classrooms. Only five years later was the front of the building and its façade to La Trobe Street completed.

That choice of the pragmatic over the cosmetic says much about the institution that grew into RMIT University. From the beginning it filled deep public and private needs. Commencing with 200 students, within two months there were 600, within two years there were 2,000. Today there are more than 74,000.

Throughout its history RMIT has grown in physical reach and scope. It has become a global university of technology, offering higher education and vocational programs for a new generation of graduates, equipped with skills that make them highly employable, fulfilled and engaged with the world.

A culture of philanthropy

The spirit of philanthropy upon which the University was founded continues. RMIT has been blessed with endowments of all kinds, bestowed by people and institutions who recognise and value the role the University plays in the academic, social and economic life of the communities in which it operates.

People and institutions have given scholarships to reward outstanding achievement, to encourage the best in research or provide access to the best possible education.

Gifts come to the University in cash and in kind, in amounts large and small. People give their precious time to act as mentors to a new generation. The University is the fortunate recipient of cultural gifts that make the campuses richer places.

Since 1887 RMIT's inner-city campus has grown up with the city of Melbourne, from the 1880s boom through periods of war, depression and renewed prosperity during the latter half of the twentieth century. Since the 1990s, the institution has acquired campuses in Bundoora and Brunswick in Melbourne's northern suburbs, and in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam, through which we take an active role in developing communities.

Frances Ormond statue

Francis Ormond, whose philanthropic donation established the Working Men's College; which would become RMIT University.

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