The ITC becomes the sixth faculty at the University of Twente

In 2010, the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) officially became part of the University of Twente, forming the sixth faculty. The institute, which dates back to before the University of Twente was founded, has a long and fascinating history.

In 1949 Willem Schermerhorn, lecturer in Surveying, Water Levels and Geodesy at Delft University of Technology, visited the head office of the United Nations in Lake Success, where he was asked to set up an International Training Centre for Aerial Survey (ITC) in the Netherlands. The twofold mission of this educational institute was to strengthen the knowledge and skills of students from developing countries (with the aim of improving how organizations in those countries function) and to apply geospatial solutions to national and global problems. The ITC was not intended to just educate students; it should also become an international research institute that would initiate collaborative projects in the field of geo-informational sciences and earth observation and make technological recommendations.

In 1950, the Dutch government set up the ITC within the framework of its development cooperation policy. Professor Schermerhorn, who had been involved with the project from the start, became the institute’s first rector magnificus. The Dutch name of the institute is the Internationaal Instituut voor Luchtkartering, but it is still known by the abbreviation ITC.

The first students began studying at the ITC in 1951, when this small, informal institute was still housed at Delft University of Technology. Five years later it relocated to a modern, new-build premises in Delft. The new building was not only intended for teaching – the students lived there, too, and Schermerhorn had a penthouse on the top floor.

Housing students in the same building where they attend lessons was fully in line with Schermerhorn’s vision. In his view, the ITC’s responsibility towards the students was not only scientific, but also social. The students have to spend a long time away from home, and combining their living and study spaces in the same building creates a special bond, not only between individual students but also with the institute, which becomes like a second home. Everything about the ITC was focused on the students’ well-being, and that’s still true today. The design of the current ITC building is focused on facilitating interaction between students and staff. For example, there are some central locations where students and staff members can meet at fixed times for a convivial (and free) cup of tea or coffee.

In 1971, to achieve an even distribution of Dutch educational institutes, the Dutch government decided that the ITC should relocate to Enschede. The new building was absolutely nothing like the one in Delft: two towers joined by a long corridor. It was true that there was more space for staff and students, but the distance between the two groups (and indeed between individual students and staff members) was too great, so a brand-new building was soon commissioned on Hengelosestraat. The ITC moved in in 1996 and is still housed there today.

In the more than 68 years of the ITC’s history, over 22,000 students from 175 different countries have studied there. The institute has an exceptionally international character, and students and staff form an amazingly close-knit group. When the ITC officially became part of the University of Twente in 2010, they let the university know that they would like to stay in their ‘home’ in the centre of Enschede. However, plans to find them a place on campus are now at an advanced stage. This is a great addition to the University of Twente, but we will have to wait and see whether their new building can again recreate the homelike atmosphere in which the social side of the ITC flourished.

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