Women were first admitted as students in 1881.
The oldest and main campus is in Parkville, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Other campuses in Melbourne and rural Victoria have been acquired through amalgamation with smaller colleges of advanced education.
Courses are offered from diploma to doctoral level in the faculties of architecture and building, arts, economics and commerce, education, engineering, law, medicine, music and science. The Victorian Government legislation establishing the university insisted that it remain secular, however Christian theology courses are offered in association with the Melbourne College of Divinity. Research is an important activity in all departments of the university.
Its research activities are quite broad, though the medical sciences are probably most extensive and best resourced.
Notable alumni of the university include Germaine Greer, Peter Singer, Robert Menzies, amongst a substantial fraction of Australias most prominent academics, politicians, industry leaders, lawyers, doctors, and artists.
The university features an interesting mix of architecture. The northern edge of the campus features a cricket oval backing onto several "residential colleges" (aping Oxbridge colleges, though the tutorials run there are purely extra assistance to the residents rather than a fundamental part of the course), of which the gothic-style Ormond College is perhaps the most spectacular (though Newman College is possibly more significant architecturally as one of the only remaining buildings of Walter Burley Griffin). Several of the original on-campus buildings, such as the old law and arts buildings, feature similarly beautiful period architecture. Only about 3000 students live in the colleges, a small fraction of the university's total student population. In fact, a large proportion of school-leaver students at the university still live with their parents.
Unfortunately, it is generally agreed around campus that the expansion during the post-World War Two period saw a departure of taste, with a number of incredibly ugly red-brick clad high-rise buildings. These include the Raymond Priestly building (used for administration), the Redmond Barry building, some of the additions to the colleges, but most hideous of all is unfortunately the architecture building itself.
A recent spate of expansions have included the Ian Potter Gallery (an art museum), and the Sydney Myer Asia Centre. The Potter Gallery in particular is highly regarded for its architecture, and won several awards when completed in 2000. The massive University Square development which has extended the campus far to the south, has been more contentiously received, with initial planning battles forcing the retention of 19th century residential townhouses as a facade.
Student extracurricular activities generally come under the loose umbrella of the Melbourne University Student Union, and student sporting activities under the Sports Union. Many student clubs are affiliated with MUSU, as well as student theatre and the "official" student newspaper, Farrago. The Student Union has, for at least the last decade, been a venue for vicious factional political battles (which sometimes sees the unusual alliance of student Australian Labor Party and Liberal Party of Australia supporters to defeat far-left candidates) and allegations of maladministration.
''The Potter Gallery, the new art gallery.
''The "Concrete Lawn" and the Old Geology building, which shows the mix of 19th and 20th century architecture on campus.