University College Utrecht was founded in 1997 by Hans Adriaansens, at that time Dean of the Utrecht University Faculty of Social Sciences. Adriaansens had a vision of a small scale international college, modeled after the American and British colleges. In 1998 UCU opened its gate as the international undergraduate honors college of Utrecht University.
It was the first organization in the Netherlands to implement the spirit of liberal arts and sciences, an educational concept that breaks away from the traditional Dutch paradigm, where focus is on disciplinary specialization throughout the entire curriculum. Following the Bologna Accord in 1999 the academic educational systems in Europe started a transformation towards a two-tier system of undergraduate (more general) and graduate (more specialized) education. In this process UCU gained increasing recognition as an example and source of inspiration.
After a decade of experience UCU now counts as an example of innovative education, and no fewer than five liberal arts colleges have opened their doors in the Netherlands since.
Hans Adriaansens left UCU in 2004 to found, under the UU umbrella, a liberal arts college in Middelburg, Zeeland: University College Roosevelt.