RMIT started life in 1887 as a working man's college. Today, it still serves the world of work as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University. But far from being a man's college, it is now among the growing number of universities around the world headed by women. Among its top management, 60 per cent are women, while females account for just over 50 per cent of the student enrolment. 'One or two begets more,' said Ruth Dunkin, its vice-chancellor for nearly three years. 'If you don't crack the first one or two there is a problem.' But Dunkin, a former civil servant who joined the university's administration 14 years ago, said it was still difficult for women to reach the top in research, despite many incentives to help them. 'The academic side has not yet found ways of dealing with time out women may require.' As women vice-chancellors go, few have been under as much pressure as Dunkin. She has steered RMIT through a major budget crisis and the fiasco of trying to implement an over-ambitious computing system, the latter reminiscent of similar problems that brought Britain's University of Cambridge to a stand-still in 2001. 'It has required a huge amount of administrative effort to keep services running and the financials on track,' she said. Dunkin has been given until December by the state government to ensure that it stays there after the university made a loss of A$17.7 million (HK$95.24 million) last year. RMIT's Academic Management System was designed to handle every financial, administrative and academic transaction for all its 60,000 students, from fees due to grades awarded. 'It was not able to do what it was meant to do,' said Dunkin. It has been estimated to have cost the university more than A$50 million. Moves towards mass education and the reluctance of the taxpayer to foot the bill were creating common pressures in universities across the world, she said. The university would look into increasing the number of students paying full fees, in response to the federal government's proposed reforms for higher education. 'It is big juggling act: institutional viability versus equity and social justice,' she said. While in Hong Kong last month Dunkin signed an agreement with the Vocational Training Council to provide undergraduate programmes in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering in addition to its current diplomas. RMIT also offers Bachelor of Arts fine arts degree with Hong Kong Art Centre's Art School. More than 500 Hong Kong students received their degrees from chancellor Professor Dennis Gibson, who with Dunkin headed graduation ceremonies in Singapore and Malaysia as well as Hong Kong. International students now account for about 25 per cent of the university's enrolment, with numbers growing about 20 per cent a year for the past three years, to 13,988. RMIT has extensive links with mainland universities, including in Nanjing, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan. 'China is important to us, just as it is for other Australian organisations. It is a huge market,' said Dunkin. 'The areas of demand are business and IT. But we have also been active in training for specific industry sectors, such as aviation. We began with flight training and have now gone through to an MBA in aviation management.' RMIT is a 'dual sector' institution, operating as both a university and a more vocational TAFE (Technical and Further Education) college. 'That goes through to the working man's college. We provide pathways out of vocational training to degrees and vice versa. Students move both ways,' she said. 'The hallmark of our education is professional and vocational education. We are very clear that it is about preparing people for work.'