University College Utrecht started in 1998 as the first university college in the Netherlands. Founded by Hans Adriaansens, at that time Dean of the Utrecht University Faculty of Social Sciences, it was modelled after the American and British colleges.
It was the first organisation in the Netherlands to implement the spirit of liberal arts and sciences, an educational concept that breaks away from the traditional Dutch university education, where focus is on disciplinary specialisation throughout the entire curriculum.
Following the Bologna declaration in 1999, 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 University College Utrecht gained increasing recognition as an example and source of inspiration for an increasing number of university colleges in the Netherlands and throughout Europe.
Hans Adriaansens left the College in 2004 to found another liberal arts college under the umbrella of Utrecht University: University College Roosevelt in Middelburg. The successive Deans were Willem Albert Wagenaar, Hans van Himbergen, Rob van der Vaart, James Kennedy and since 2021, Susan te Pas.
From 1913 to 1995, the University College Utrecht campus was a military base, Kromhoutkazerne, now located just next to the campus. College Hall, and the buildings Locke, Newton and Voltaire, which contain classrooms, staff offices and, upstairs, student rooms, all date from this period. Also the Dining Hall was in 1985 originally built as a military mess, while the Auditorium used to house a military museum.