The foundation of the THT

The foundation of the Technische Hogeschool Twente

The story of the University of Twente begins with ‘the foundation of the Twente University Fund’ in 1948, as explained in the canon story How the University of Twente Funds Foundation came into being. That was the year when the forerunner of today’s Twente University Fund, the Stichting Technisch Hoger Onderwijs voor Noord- en Oost Nederland (or ‘Foundation for Technical Higher Education for the North and East of the Netherlands’) was first established. The local industrialists and local government bodies that were involved in the Foundation were unanimous in their determination to bring a Technische Hogeschool (Technical College)to their region. Industry in Twente needed engineers to kickstart modernisation in the labour-intensive textile and machine manufacturing sectors, which were facing tough competition from lower-wage countries. Although the minister ultimately opted to create the Netherlands’ new Technische Hogeschool in Eindhoven in 1956, it quickly became clear that even with this second college, the growing demand for engineers still could not be met. There was a short but fierce battle for the privilege of hosting the third Technische Hogeschool, in which Enschede had to see off rivals Arnhem, Assen, Leeuwarden, Deventer and Zwolle.

Eindhoven students place signage in front of the Enschede city hall. The sign Drienerlo is officially handed over to mayor W. Thomassen (March 1961)

After three of these cities withdrew (Leeuwarden, Assen and Arnhem), the final phase involved three cities in the province of Overijssel: Zwolle, Deventer and a dual bid by Hengelo-Enschede. The varied industrial infrastructure in the eastern part of Twente strengthened the case for Hengelo-Enschede, but in terms of culture, both Zwolle and the Hanseatic city of Deventer were attracting much more support. The fact that both Deventer and Enschede were apparently willing and able to hand over the land required to build a Technische Hogeschool to the government ‘for no consideration’ put Zwolle at a clear disadvantage, but there were still two determined rivals left in the race.

The lobbying effort of Twente resumed with a vengeance, revealing significant support among local residents and businesses. Indeed, a significant sum of money was raised spontaneously in the space of just five days from a wide range of businesses and well-wishers. In addition to the lobbying campaign, two other factors played an important role: a strategic blunder by the City of Deventer but also the role of the Drienerlo estate. This was a small but beautiful and historically very important estate located right between Hengelo and Enschede (you can read more about the history of the Drienerlo estate in the canon ‘The Drienerlo Estate and De Boerderij’).

Aerial view of the Drienerlo Estate (1961)

So what ultimately swung the balance in favour of Twente? In the words of the then Minister of Education Jo Cals: ‘The persuasive arguments that have been put forward […] in favour of a Technische Hogeschool to be established on the Drienerlo estate, together with the self-sacrifice shown by industrialists and other businesses, give me reason to believe that strong support can be expected from the local authorities and the local population regarding the establishment of a Technische Hogeschool in Twente.’

On 1 December 1961, the Dutch House of Representatives approved the establishment of the Netherlands’ third Technische Hogeschool in Enschede, voting on a proposal from the Minister of Education Jo Cals. This is now considered the official date on which the university was founded, and ever since then the University of Twente has celebrated its Dies Natalis on the Friday preceding 1 December. That being said, though, 1964 – the year in which the Technische Hogeschool first opened its doors – is also sometimes seen as the university’s foundation date, meaning that the first five-year anniversary was celebrated twice: in 1966 and 1969.

Committee to prepare the foundation of the third Technische Hogeschool (April 1961)