Dear fellow University College Utrecht alumni,
We are sure that by now, the news that UU is selling UCU’s campus has reached most of you. However, further information beyond the initial newspaper article has not been very forthcoming. We have therefore been in contact with several other parties therefore been trying to clear up the picture.
First of all, it is important to remark that the sale has not actually been made yet, and so the decision is not yet entirely definite. The College van Bestuur, the executive board of the UU, however has made its intent clear, and the URaad has given its approval. The College, being the students, staff, management (or alumni), have not been consulted and had no part in the process. Only as recently as the spring of 2019, management was asked for their general opinion on a wide menu of options, including a version of the one currently in favour that they empathically advised against.
Secondly, the decision to sell campus seems to be mainly cost-driven. The wider university has too much overhead, and there is a government-mandated maximum percentage of 15% of costs to be spent on housing that it is currently exceeding. UCU and its campus are one of the worst offenders, besides the remaining inner-city buildings that the UU considered inviolable. For the entire campus, these housing costs amount to some ~4-5 million euros per annum, of which UCU takes up about 1.5-2 million euros per year. In all this, the UU is not considering the intangible value the current campus offers to UCU.
Another argument the UU is putting forward is the limited possibility to make campus more sustainable. Any measures taken would certainly prove very costly, so it is considered better to move campus off the balance sheet entirely and build anew. One argument against this line of reasoning is that the offending buildings are monumental and cannot be demolished, so that selling them would merely shift the burden of redevelopment and renovation to a buying party.
Thirdly, there are some complications a prospective buyer would have to face up to, and it remains unclear what kind of parties would be interested. The minimal asking price singing around is ~30 million. No high-rising buildings are permitted on the site due to its proximity to the adjacent Army Headquarters, and the protected lines of sight prohibit any new buildings being constructed. Furthermore, the original campus buildings are monumental, and cannot be adapted from the outside. Something similar holds for some of the newer buildings on campus, which are still under architectural licence and cannot be changed without the architect’s approval. Another complication is that the UU doesn’t actually own all of the property on campus. It has the deed to the land and possesses most of the non-residential buildings. All student housing, including the upper floors of the academic buildings, is owned by Lekstede. UU has a lease contract with them that can be cancelled on a yearly basis. The (very high) rents for rooms on campus pay only for Lekstede’s housing costs, not for UU’s housing costs. These are covered solely by tuition fees, and indirectly by government contributions.
Details of a proposal for a new campus are few and far between, and it is very unclear what UC would get back in return for giving up its current location. So far, the UU insists that they are committed to a residential campus that combines living, teaching and studying in one place. For these plans they have a ~30 million outlay in mind. This figure is reserved for the academic spaces of the development, while they would look for an external partner to construct residential areas. Proposed is a total land area of about 5.000m2, significantly less than a football pitch and less than a quarter of the current campus. This seems to preclude a setup like the present one with open areas to meet in, and suggests one should rather think more in the direction of something like LUC’s single tower, combining living and teaching in one building, near The Hague central station or AUC’s buildings at the Amsterdam Science Park, where they have several residential housing blocks plus a separate academic building.
Although other neighbourhoods (such as the Jaarbeurs-area or Kanaleneiland) have been mooted, the most likely location for UCU to move to is de Uithof, also called Utrecht Science Park. One possibility is to place it close to the International School that is to open there. Prof. Anton Pijper, the director of UU’s executive board, has suggested the building might take a U-shaped form with an internal courtyard facing the Amelisweerd forest on the outskirts of de Uithof. Although UU has promised to hear UCU’s preferences and wishes, it is unclear how much leverage there is to place any demands if they choose to go down a different path.
We see it as unlikely that a version of these current proposals would be able to adequately preserve UCU’s unique identity and allow it to prosper. Whatever its deficiencies, the campus is the most obvious point of distinction UCU has with respect to the zoo of University Colleges, 12 in number at last count, that have sprouted in recent years. Although in principle UCU’s strengths are independent of its location, they are intrinsically linked to the characteristics of the campus it currently inhabits that are incredibly hard to replicate elsewhere.
What remains to be investigated is how to react to these plans. An alumni petition protesting UU’s decision has now amassed about 1500 signatures, an overwhelming response offering a clear sign of displeasure and anger considering that the alumni body now consist of some 3000 souls. Irrespective of what will happen, it would be hugely beneficial to make it plain that we, UCU’s alumni, feel strongly about this and have useful insights to contribute to the debate. There are several areas to explore:
– media: it is important to have our message heard – this can include approaching the university, local and national media.
– real estate & renovation: getting an idea how expensive the current campus would be, what renovations would cost, and what development opportunities there are there. Also, it would be good to get a figure for what a new campus with similar residential setup would cost
– politics: we could help by approaching the members of university, local and national political bodies to tell them of our point of view and try to influence proceedings
– relocation wish list: in case the relocation becomes inevitable or is even made desirable, then what would our wishes and preferences be? The more concrete such ideas are, the more likely it is that UU will listen and take them into account.
We hope to form committees to investigate these and other areas and direct efforts. If you have some expertise in any of them and can contribute, or know anyone who might, please do get in touch.
At the moment, the information above is all we have managed to gather. If you happen to be aware of further details or have illuminating insights, you can share them with us and the alumni community by posting on facebook or reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, we will do our best to keep you abreast of any further developments if and when they occur. We would encourage you to stay in touch via facebook and LinkedIn. Furthermore, we would welcome all the help we can get on the board to deal with these issues. We still have a few positions on the board open, and are generally willing to be quite flexible in distributing tasks.