Whilst the financial drivers in the ‘80s were research and undergraduate numbers, it was undergraduate numbers that were the major determinant of the Faculty’s share of government funding, and by 1990, there were almost 3000 undergraduate students, and almost zero full-fee paying students. The Faculty then began to start a campaign of international recruitment, and by the mid ‘90s, the Faculty’s attention shifted to developing strategies to increase the percentage of women research students and staff (in 1990, 20% of first year students in Engineering at Melbourne were women, and the national average was 11%).
With a $50m+ budget, business and financial management became much more than a pencil and paper activity, and given the pressure from governments and external sources for quick decision-making, Deans and Heads of Departments no longer had time for the consultative and collegiate processes that characterised earlier times. The Management and Resources Committee (previously the Budgets Committee) became the new powerhouse, and the Engineering Faculty suffered the frustration of well thought-out proposals being rejected by a Committee with minimal knowledge of engineering. It is important to note that by this time, external sources of income accounted for over 50% of the faculty’s $36m budget.
Research performance of the Faculty also grew at an amazing rate following the successful bidding for government-sponsored research centres that were often multi-disciplinary and multi-university arrangements, involving significant collaboration with industry. However the tendency was for those offering external support to seek a substantial supporting commitment of other university and faculty funds, including a major ‘in-kind competent’, such as academic staff needing to excuse themselves from teaching to make an in-kind commitment to a research centre.
The Institute of Engineers complained that the courses at the Faculty were too theoretical and overcrowded, so the University reintroduced formal design work and attended to issues of project management and communication skills. The Faculty boasted its offerings as “client access to fundamental knowledge, leading-edge research capacity and expertise, multi-million dollar facilities, and specialised education and research training equal to the world’s best”.
With the technological boom, a new Electrical Engineering Department moved rapidly from the worst performing department in the faculty to the best. By the mid ‘90s, the Electrical Engineering Department and the Computer Science Department found themselves the custodian of an extremely valuable service: the allocation of domain names, or unique addresses for those who wished to have a presence on the Internet. By the end of the ‘90s, Melbourne IT was floated on the stock exchange, with investment over $80m, all going to the University itself, rather than the Faculty.