Thursday, 21 September 2017

The changing face of education in the city

In1899 the College begins offering full-time courses in engineering and applied science. Teaching departments are developed including engineering, fitting and turning, metallurgy and mining, and chemistry.

This week, RMIT celebrates a milestone, completing an amazing learning precinct at the heart of our city campus on Swanston Street. 130 years since our foundation as a ‘Working Men’s College’, the face of education in Melbourne has changed almost beyond recognition. Tom Bentley tells the story.

Founded in 1887 by Francis Ormond as “un-sectarian, non-political, and open to wage earners of both sexes”, the Working Men's College motto of the "Skilled Hand and a Cultivated Mind"  endures more than a century later. 

RMIT is a global university of technology, design and enterprise, with more than 84,000 students in Melbourne and around the world.  

As our city has grown and transformed through the generations, education has evolved with it. Migration, war, booms and crashes, new challenges and technologies have all left their mark on the city, fueling new ideas and turning them into new ways to live and work.

Essential ingredient

Education is the essential ingredient in making these changes work for our community.
In each generation, the terms of participation shift to focus on the most urgent needs and the latest thinking.  Technology allows us to organise learning in new ways. 

After the Great War, the Working Men’s College offered classes to returned service personnel.
In the 1920s, the Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy was opened to teach domestic science - cooking, textiles and typing - to women.

In the 1930s the Working Men’s College became the Melbourne Technical College.

Crucial role

During the Second World War, "the Tech" - as it was known - played a crucial role in developing radar technology, training most of the RAAF’s communications officers, and manufacturing munitions and aeroplane parts for the Australian government. Our "Royal" moniker reflects this vital contribution.

In the post-war era, RMIT’s education broadened to include the skills demanded by a fully-employed manufacturing economy; alongside construction, electrical, plumbing, chemical and civil engineering, we created courses in accountancy, advertising, printing and food technology.

Our buildings and spaces also evolve, with new thinking and technology, shaping the city as they go.
RMIT now occupies some six per cent of Melbourne’s CBD, along with vibrant campuses in Brunswick and Bundoora, and partnerships across the world.

Shaping the city

In the 1960s, RMIT’s signature Swanston Street buildings were going up, creating the "grey ghosts" in which a generation of computer scientists and urban planners were taught.

RMIT’s urban campus has grown building by building, lane by lane, to include some of Victoria’s most important heritage sites, such as the old Melbourne Gaol precinct. Through the decades, leading-edge architectural designs have added new buildings to our footprint and transformed the spaces in between.

Indeed, RMIT-trained architects and planners have shaped the wider city in ways too numerous to mention, often returning both to teach new students, work with our researchers and to contribute to new building designs. 

Design thinking works hand in hand with innovation in construction materials, energy systems, project management and transport technologies to create new options for our urban infrastructure.
Now, in the 21st century, the evolution is occurring again.  The next generation of infrastructure investments, from the Melbourne Metro to the NBN, will connect people with new ways to live and work.

A knowledge-based economy

Swanston Street, already one of the world’s busiest tram corridors, will get new metro stations bringing fountains of talent from all over Melbourne to the jobs and learning opportunities of a knowledge-based economy.

RMIT teams are working on breakthrough technologies like the Hyperloop super-fast transport system, on construction safety, on autonomous vehicles and new approaches to traffic management.
They are redesigning the legal and social services that our changing communities need, and developing the health and disabilities workforce of the future.  

Alongside our full spectrum of vocational and higher education programs, we are building new ways to assess and accredit 21st century skills, so that learners at any stage of life can combine online learning with valuable experiences and opportunities.  

Building on a decades-long tradition, we are developing thousands of talented entrepreneurs and connecting them to skills and opportunities across Melbourne’s changing economy.

Talented learners

If you walk through our renewed campus, the energy created by these talented learners crackles in the air.  

Huge buildings once known as "grey ghosts" have been reshaped into a vibrant, publicly accessible spaces through which students, workers and visitors flow, sharing information, enjoying great food and coffee, making new connections in a world that is now drenched in knowledge. 

With our neighbours at the University of Melbourne and the City of Melbourne, including the Queen Victoria Market, we have created an "urban innovation district" to make the most of a shared wealth of opportunities, and shape our city for the benefit of future generations.

Investing together in new technologies and infrastructure, and in the people who will create new value from them, is the best way to renew our city and our regional economy.  

The diversity of our population is one of our greatest strengths.  With the right kinds of education accessible to all, we can continue building a confident, resilient and forward-looking community. 

Tom Bentley is a writer and policy adviser based in Melbourne. He is Principal Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor at RMIT, where he leads the Policy and Impact Team. From 2007–13 he was Senior Adviser and Deputy Chief-of-Staff to Julia Gillard. From 1999–2006 he was Director of Demos, an independent think tank based in London.