Utrecht University Fund celebrates an anniversary

This year marks a anniversary not only for the University, but for the Utrecht University Fund as well. The 135thanniversary of the fund is a good reason to reflect on the history of the oldest university fund in the country. Ten years ago, Armand Heijnen wrote 125 jaar Utrechts Universiteitsfonds (125 years of the Utrecht University Fund). In this Illuster, we will present a brief excerpt from it. We will also devote attention to more recent developments such as the growing number of named funds and Student Friends.

1886: Academy Fund

Oprichtingsakte Universiteitsfonds

On the occasion of Utrecht University’s 250th anniversary in 1886, a number of former students decided to raise money for an ‘Academy Fund’, with the idea that the University could use this fund to pay for expenses not covered by state funding. Some 700 ‘reunion participants’ were involved in these efforts. Together, they managed to raise over 18,000 guilders, intended – as formulated in the memorandum of association – ‘to promote the flourishing of the University’. Alumni could become members of the fund for the sum of five guilders per year – or 50 guilders for a lifetime membership. The ‘president’ of the fund was Natural Sciences alumnus Dr A. Vrolik. The fund’s annual award for research with important social impact, which was established in 2018, was named in his honour.

1936: Gifts

illuster, alumni

At the start of the 20th century, the Academy Fund was looking for ways to expand its base beyond just former members of the Utrechtsch Studenten Corps (USC), as it wanted to become an organisation for the entire academic community. This desire took the form of various gifts offered to the University community during the anniversary celebrations by what had come to be known as the University Fund. At the third centennial in 1936, for instance, the University Fund bestowed on the University a set of tapestries made by Willem van Konijnenburg, which have been on display in the Auditorium ever since.

1941: Second World War

Monument Academiegebouw

The University Fund was more or less inactive during the Second World War. While a small-scale University Day with the theme of ‘Intellectual freedom’ was organised in 1941, virtually all fund-related activities were suspended after that point, in part because all academic life had come to a standstill. Students, on the other hand, continued to make their voices heard – they were now free to use their time and energy to join the resistance, which they did, along with a number of alumni. 

Watersnoodramp 1953

In 1953, the University Fund established a committee which was to focus specifically on social care for students. The immediate reason for this was the disastrous North Sea Flood which took place in the province of Zeeland that year. Around 150 students and a handful of alumni from Zeeland received support. Fellow alumni were called on to donate books and instruments to help doctors, veterinarians and ministers (among others) affected by the flood. Joop van der Maas, a former professor of Chemistry who passed away last year, was among those who experienced this natural disaster first-hand. The fear of drowning in the 1953 flood, evacuation and living with a host family in Hilversum shaped Van der Maas to a strong degree. As a result, in his later career at the University, he felt a kinship with disadvantaged students and ultimately named the University Fund as his sole heir. He left instructions that his legacy of one million euros was intended for students who – through no fault of their own – have encountered financial or emotional distress.

1970: Its own building

Achter de Dom 20

Although the University Fund initially occupied only a single office in the University’s Administration building (which was then still at Kromme Nieuwegracht 29), around 1970 it became clear that larger accommodations were needed. Every year in the building at Achter de Dom 20, Mrs Berthe van Middelkoop-Berkhoff, the University Fund director, would receive a visit from members of the social and study association boards. After coffee and polite conversation, these visits transitioned into ‘port-drinking parties’ – which Van Middelkoop at times had to sternly end. Even then, there was an awareness that being an alumnus began the first moment a student arrived at their alma mater, and that the University Fund should therefore maintain contact not only with graduates but with current students as well. The trouble was that the students with whom the Fund was in contact were rather boisterous, in the way of traditional Dutch student societies. And the ‘port-drinking parties’ were not really in line with the spirit of the 1970s, as Van Middelkoop herself admitted. As a result, the Fund struggled during this period.

1995: Relationship management

Post Iucundam Iuventutem was the title of the University Fund magazine founded in 1950. It translates loosely to ‘After a happy youth’, which is a line from the school song, Gaudeamus Igitur. The magazine was created to promote the ties to and within the academic community. In keeping with the motto ‘First friend-raising, then fund-raising’, former fund director Leneke Visser in particular placed a strong emphasis on relationship management. The idea was that alumni should be more emphatically involved with the University. To that end, the quarterly magazine Illuster was introduced in late 1995 (after Post Iucundam Iuventutem ceased to exist in 1987). ‘We wanted to take a journalistic approach to developing a stakeholder magazine,’ explains editor-in-chief at the time Twan Geurts. ‘We were dealing, after all, with a highly educated and critical group of readers who would be ill-served by jingoistic accounts of unmitigated triumphs. The tone was meant to be positive yet critical.’ Regional and international alumni networks were established as well, with an annual alumni lecture in New York. Now that more and more alumni began to feel involved with their alma mater, the University Fund saw an increase in the number of Friends, donors and gifts.

2014: Named funds

Bursalen Hofvijverkring 2019

Since the beginning of the previous century, the University Fund has administered a variety of other funds which are also intended to support activities which would otherwise have no chance of success. Yet over the last decade, the number of named funds in the portfolio has also increased dramatically. There are now 29 such funds, with new ones being added each year. When a named fund is set up, the founder – often a private individual, but potentially a foundation or other organisation –also designates the purpose of the fund. In other words: donors determine the impact of their gift. One example of such a named fund is the ‘Hofvijverkring’ established by alumni from The Hague. Since its founding in 2014, this fund has contributed over 150,000 euros to scientific research and education at UU.

Present: Student friends

Mensen buiten in UU-hoodies

The fact that the University Fund focuses on students as well as graduates is evident from the growing number of Student Friends of the Utrecht University Fund. Today, there are nearly 6,000 Student Friends. Some 1,500 new Student Friends sign up each year, thanks to the successful promotion at the start of each new academic year, in which every new Friend receives an Utrecht University hoodie as a welcome gift. In this way, current students help support equal opportunities for UU students and therefore the original goal as it has existed since the start of the University Fund: to contribute to the growth and flourishing of Utrecht University.