In 1890, the barrister H.B. Higgins proposed to the Council that the University should offer lectures and classes in Victorian country towns along the lines of the 'extension' schemes that had been developing in English universities since the early 1870s. Edward Jenks, first Professor of Law and second Dean [1889-92], who had been an extension lecturer at Cambridge, took up the project with great zeal and acted as first secretary of the University Extension Board in 1891.
In the first year courses were available on a range of subjects from Professor Spencer on Australian fauna to E.E. Morris on the poetry of Browning and members could earn a certificate by passing an exam by the end of the year. The professors travelled widely, but the initial response was not as great as anticipated.
Extension activities were revived with the appointment of Professor Meredith Atkinson as Director of Tutorial classes in 1917 followed by J.A. Gunn in 1923, but its success depended heavily on charisma and lecturing skill.
Professor W.A. Osborne and W. Macmahon Ball were assured of big crowds, but beyond providing some opportunity for country students it was never considered a primary activity by the University which abolished the Board in 1947 and handed its functions over it over to the State to become the Council of Adult Education despite the protestations of its head since 1938 Colin Badger.
Nearly forty years later in 1974 the University set up an Office for Continuing Education to once again encourage and develop external courses. It came close to competing with the Council of Adult Education for a time before its function of providing access to single subjects in University courses was re-absorbed back into the normal responsibilities of faculties and the Academic Board.
The University of Melbourne also provided an external infrastructure for Canberra University College, established in 1930 primarily to provide higher education for public servants. The College finally became the School of General Studies within the Australian National University in 1961.