19th-20th century: Modern Utrecht University
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, natural science in Utrecht came to a standstill. Utrecht University needed more money for proper teaching, but the government was short of funds. It was even contemplated to close the State University of Utrecht in order to be able to open up possibilities for other universities. Investments in staff, buildings and equipment were withheld for some time, which made it difficult for Utrecht University to attract and hold on to top scientists. The construction of the new City and Academic Hospital at the Catharijnesingel (1872) provided the only opportunity for realising some of its ambitions.
Meanwhile, the first female students had entered the scene of academic learning, Catharine van Tussenbroek being the first to register at Utrecht University. In 1915, more than a quarter of all students were women. Among its teachers, this revolution took place at a much slower pace. Although the first Dutch female professor, Johanna Westerdijk, was appointed at Utrecht University as early as 1916, she remained the only one in the Cathedral City until after the Second World War.
Phytopathologist Westerdijk was one of the numerous famous scientists of Utrecht University after 1900. An academic revival was experienced by the university, initiated by scholars such as physiologist-physician Hubrecht, lawyers such as Hamaker and Molengraaff, historians such as Kernkamp and Geyl, natural scientists such as Magnus and Minnaert, and theologians such as Van Unnik. In 1929, Christiaan Eykman was the first Utrecht scholar to receive the Nobel Prize.
In 1925, a sixth faculty was created, when Utrecht University merged with the veterinary school. This marked the beginning of a development of Utrecht University creating an increasing number of specialisations and new degree programmes. After the Second World War, Geosciences, Biology and Chemistry became self-sufficient, and a Faculty of Social Sciences was set up.
Meanwhile, the number of students increased dramatically: from approx. 800 in 1900, to almost 3,000 at the end of the 1930s and to approx. 23,000 in 2000, to 29,000 today. Utrecht University is not only one of the oldest universities, but also one of the largest universities in the Netherlands.
Also from geographic and architectonic points of view, Utrecht University has seen many changes since the 1960s, with some faculties, the library, the academic hospital and facility and administrative services being moved to De Uithof. In the twentieth century, science has become ‘big science’, requiring multi-disciplinary teaming and large financial investments. Although the Dutch government is still its main partner, Utrecht University has become increasingly independent since the Second World War and is a self-governing organisation today.