'Utrecht is famous for other things'

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The prestige of the University College

For a year now, University College has been housed onthe grounds of the Kromhout Kazerne Barracks in East Utrecht.Instead of military personnel international students live in thebuildings around the former parade-ground. How do their neighboursfeel about that? What do the inhabitants of Utrecht know about theCollege? And does the University see the College as a prestigeobject?

In August 1998, however, the University Board agreed to theestablishment of the College in the form it has had for the pastyear. Certainly prestige played a part in the decision making. Thepresident of the University Board J. Veldhuis made that clear atthe Council meeting when he said: "University College allows us tomake an important contribution to the national debate on courseduration and supplementing the curriculum with academic skills.More pretentious yet: its international allure makes thisinitiative rather unique for the European continent as a whole. Itis our contribution to the European cause, furthering the unity ofand fraternization within Europe."

The University public relations officer, J. Kessels, agrees andthinks the College contributes to the University's prestige: "It isone of the most outstanding educational innovations in theNetherlands. The large number of bodies cooperating to get theCollege off the ground is ample proof, in my view. The University,the City Council, the Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry ofEducation all worked together to realize the College."

What does the College mean to the University? Kessels: "TheCollege contributes to the University's national and internationalprofile. Because of the additional courses it offers, itcontributes to the educational differentiation. Its form attracts anew target group: students with international ambitions, who arewilling to work hard in a campus setting and choose a major thatoffers them a wide range of opportunities. The College graduateswill be highly employable in any business environment."

Kessels claims to receive numerous inquiries about UniversityCollege: "Most of the inquiries are made by the press and secondaryeducation student counsellors. They want to know things like: whatare the possibilities after graduation, what is the curriculum likeand what exactly is University College?"

Rietveld house

In spite of huge media attention the College is notreally verywell-known in Utrecht. The Vredenburg municipal Information Centercannot provide any documentation on University College. What thedesk employee can provide, is a CD-rom containing information onthe military history of the Kromhout grounds: 'The PerfectPicture'. It also contains an item, mainly pictures, on the futureof the former military barracks, but not a word is said about theUniversity College campus, even though it now occupies a quarter ofthe grounds.

At the next desk, the Utrecht Tourist Information cannot provedinformation on University College or the Kromhout grounds either.Staff member F. van Tiel: "We know it's there, but nobody everasks. The people who come here want information on the Rietveldhouse, canal rides, and the Dom tower, the usual touristattractions." Van Tiel is pleased with the existence of aninternational campus in Utrecht, but does not believe it will everbe a tourist attraction. A comparison between Utrecht and Cambridgeis too far-fetched: "Cambridge IS that University, Utrecht isfamous for other things."

The manager of the East Utrecht Community Center, H. Versnel,agrees that a comparison with Cambridge would be too far-fetched,but he believes that the Kromhout grounds have been put to good useby locating the College there. "At least the former militarybuildings are still intact. Initially, the first solution that cameto mind was demolition and rebuilding. I like this better." Versnelthinks the College nicely enhances Utrecht's international allure."This city usually shows no international orientation at all. Thereis the Jaarbeurs, the University has a number of internationalcontacts with other University cities, and the City Council, forinstance, cooperates with the Czech city of Brno, but that's aboutit. I think this is a useful addition."

What image does the College have in the neighbourhood of theKromhout Barracks? L. Kramer, who owns the pub called Jan Primus,hardly ever sees any of the College students. "Now and againthere's a bunch of them here, but I think they haven't got the timeor the money to go out. And they have a bar of their own overthere", Kramer says while pulling a beer. "I do like the studentsbetter than the military who used to be here. They were very loudcoming back from the city drunk."

P. Kroes, of Prins Hendriklaan, lives across the street fromUniversity College. He does not mind at all having the College athis doorstep. "Who knows what effect the College's positive imagemay have on the neighbourhood. It hasn't had much effect yet,though, for it is only known around here. I see the odd studentcoming or going through the gate." Kroes thinks student are justordinary young people growing up. "Perhaps they are a bit smarterthan other 'feuten' (freshers)."

Joke van der Glas