What is the Melbourne Free University



The Melbourne Free University is based upon the principles of emancipatory education: anyone can learn, if they want to. The MFU offers a space for personal self-motivated engagement with knowledge in a diverse range of subject areas.

The MFU is not a replacement for formal universities. It offers a different way to engage with knowledge, and is open to everyone.

The MFU runs courses in areas such as philosophy, politics, history, law, development, and the arts on a weekly basis. These courses and seminars take place in community spaces including bars, cafes, neighbourhood houses and bookshops. The MFU was established by a collective in 2010 with the object of establishing an open platform for learning, discussion and debate in Melbourne. Since then, it has consistently run up to two courses concurrently, in addition to an ad hoc special seminar series. It has involved speakers ranging from early career and established academics to community leaders, enthusiasts, activists, people with lived experience, and many others. The MFU audience has been equally diverse. MFU sessions vary in terms of their format, but generally include a lecture and an open discussion of equal length.

The MFU does not offer certification. Instead the MFU focuses on delivering and partaking in knowledge for its own sake and the realization that anyone can learn if they have the will to. Anyone can participate in sessions- the MFU doesn’t ask for RSVPs, course enrolment, or fees.

The MFU upholds the principle of ‘no money in, no money out’, which means that all our resources are donated to us. This ensured our autonomy from political parties and organisations, governments, private bodies, universities and NGOs.

However, the MFU does not claim to be unbiased. It stands for radical equality, and the possibility for everyone to pursue knowledge on their own terms.

This is exemplified through our style of learning, which challenges the dichotomy between teacher and learner, or speaker and audience. Equal time is afforded to both, recognizing the value of both the speaker’s expertise and the audience’s own knowledge and experiences.

The lectures are only the first step of the learning process at the MFU: they give the audience a basis for an open discussion, and an opportunity to challenge perceptions. This discussion is, in itself, an act of emancipation.

The MFU’s Principles



  1. The Free University combines the academic rigour of a traditional university with the open discussions of a philosophical salon.
  2. The Free University stands for radical equality: the a priori belief in universal equality and the possibility of emancipation.
  3. The Free University is free and accessible. It remains politically and economically autonomous from political parties and organisations, government, private bodies, universities and NGOs.
  4. The Free University is based on the belief that people have the responsibility to seek and engage with knowledge. Learning is an act of will and empowerment.
  5. The Free University is an alternative to the exclusive and outcome orientated education sector, enabling the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and thereby freedom.

Who We Are

Jasmine Westendorf
Jasmine is an academic at La Trobe University. She researches peace processes and civil wars, and is one of the MFU co-founders.

Jem has an abiding interest in finding out what he doesn’t yet know.

Sheena Colquhoun
Sheena Colquhoun is an artist, musician and graphic designer based in Narrm. She completed her bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) at Monash University in 2015 and now works in the community legal sector. She is lead singer of band Scratch Match and hosts a monthly spoken word collage radio show on Skylab Radio titled “Meaningless Legs”

Our half-baked sound tech making it up and learning on the go, leaning heavily on adjacent musical experience.
JJ studies philosophy at La Trobe Uni. Interests include phenomenology, existentialism, metaphysics, history, psychoanalysis, religions, and the role of Christianity in shaping the Western world-view. JJ can also talk ad infinitum about guitars and old cars.

Gerald Roche
Gerald Roche is an anthropologist whose work focuses on issues of language and social justice. He is interested in how colonialism and racism produce language endangerment and hamper language revitalization. His research primarily focuses on Tibet and the Himalayas, but he also has a broad interest in Indigenous and other language movements around the world.

Eloise Young
Eloise is a writer, editor, project manager and strategist. This is what she does for a day job too, minus the pub meetings involved at MFU. No prizes for guessing which she prefers. Eloise recently moved to Melbourne after a prolonged stint in London, working in various communications and editorial roles.

Emily Foley
Emily is a PhD candidate in Politics at LaTrobe University. Her research focuses on comparative immigration policy in centre-left political parties and her areas of interest include Australian politics and migration studies.

Past team and contributors:

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is a co-founder of the MFU. He a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Queensland. His first book “Modern Muslim Identities” Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia is out now through NIAS Press. Gerhard coordinated  The Asia-Pacific and Us: Australia in the Region,  I (heart) Philosophy, and “What If…?” among other courses. 

Aurelien Mondon is a co-founder of the MFU. He is now an academic at the University of Bath in the UK. He researches the impact of populism and racism on parliamentary democracies & elections. Some of his writing can be found on his blog briefandfalseadvertising.net . Aurelien coordinated Australian Identities?,Racism in the 21st centuryIndigenous perspectives: past and present, & “What if…?” among other courses. 

Benjamin Portas is the genius behind the MFU’s image and our original poster design. His website is benjaminportas.com.

Phoebe Bond works in climate change adaptation at Melbourne Uni. She enjoys organising events and writing. Her latest article – on how we label ourselves sexually – was published in Archer Magazine. Phoebe is programming MFU’s course on Love and Sex in the 21st Century.

Seb Prowse is Operations Manager at the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, and a former Coordinator of the New International Bookshop at Trades Hall. Despite all that, his abiding passions are sport and electronic music. Seb is coordinating MFU’s course On Drugs.

Stephanie Downes works on medieval English and French literature. Based at the University of Melbourne since 2012, she has taught and researched in London, Paris and Sydney. She is currently funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Bonny Cassidy is a poet, essayist and critic. She has taught literary studies and creative writing in universities in NSW and Victoria, and developed poetry education programs with public institutions and schools.

Ben Sievewright is a graduate of the University of Melbourne’s Executive Master of Arts program. His studies have previously focussed on Anthropology and Australian History. Ben is a reviewer and published author with the journal ‘History in the Making’. He also assists the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific Region – South Pacific, as the Director of Special Projects. Ben is coordinating the course Melbourne: Music, Memory, Place.

Morgan Macdonald is a graduate from the Australian National University’s Master of Applied Anthropology & Participatory Development & an independent researcher who has worked with Melbourne based NGOs & academics from La Trobe University. He is passionate about refugee issues & development strategies that work towards the realisation of human rights. Morgan coordinated Refugee Realities: Risk Rights & Resettlement.

Helen Addison-Smith is a chef with a PhD in creative writing, a Masters in Science Fiction Studies and no great plans for her future. She’s had her short fiction published in journals such as Overland, Island and Hecate and is the sole provider of sustenance, shelter and wholesome fun times for her six year old daughter. Helen is running the course The Naked Brunch: Food, Consumption and Culture.

Tyson Namow is a PhD candidate in Cinema Studies at La Trobe University and teaches in the areas of cinema and media. He is also a Features Film Programmer with the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival (HRAFF). You can read some of his writings on the LaTrobe Academia page. Tyson has coordinated An Introduction to the Politics of Representation and Aesthetics in Cinema.

Lyndel McLennan is a bit of a new media enthusiast! She recently returned from the UK where she worked on a Social Media Stakeholder strategy for the BBC and The Digital Fiction Factory. She has spent a good part of the last ten years working within communications and event management for the Victorian State Government, for major venues and as part of the Melbourne music community. Lyndel coordinated Media: What does the future hold?

Anna Drummond is an art historian who specialises in the Italian Renaissance, focusing particularly on art related to marriage and images of the Virgin Mary. She has lived and worked in Pisa and Venice and recently returned from a stint lecturing at the University of Nottingham. Anna is the coordinator of Politics, Pruning and Paint: Case Studies in Art History.

Tim Thornton has been lecturing in economics at Monash and La Trobe University for the last 10 years. Tim, who has just submitted his PhD on the evolution of economics teaching in Australian universities, is an award-winning teacher who is very much looking forward to being involved with Melbourne Free University. He is coordinating Economics for Everyone.

Shane Andrews built and maintained the MFU’s first website. He runs itDoesCompute web design, along with nonVerbalReasoning.net and umattutor.com where he tutors for the UMAT medical entrance test & psychometric tests and has published two non-verbal reasoning UMAT specific text books: “umat456” and “umat123” 

Darren Saffin is a PR consultant who works for a wide range of clients. He has a passion for community and believes a quality education needs to be available to all.