Organisation - March 10, 2011

A bit like a birthday

Happy birthday! We are 25 years old. The university part of this company, that is. Twenty five years ago, the Wageningen Agricultural College became the Wageningen Agricultural University overnight. Without much ado.

And we won't get much funfare now either, says Simon Vink, spokesperson for the executive board. The actual birthday of the academic institution was in 1918. Therefore, the 93 rd Dies Natalis was celebrated yesterday. What happened in 1986 was nothing more than 'just a name change'. In short, students and employees can forget about getting a green coloured petit four after the summer.

That was the case too a quarter of a century ago. On that particular day, executive board chairman Dick de Zeeuw unveiled a sober plaque at the Aula bearing the logo of the new house-style: the slanted 'W' which has in the meantime been cast aside. That was it. The Wageningen university newspaper of 4 September 1986 carried an announcement of this memorable event on page 4 with a photograph and a caption. A short write-up appeared on the following page. The change of name 'makes it necessary' for the editorial board to take leave of the old name and the same for its logo. You can sense an annoyance in the choice of words.

Big cost-cuttings
Further in the same edition was a long article about 'the difficult implementation of the disputed act'. That act was the Scientific Education Act approved by the Dutch Lower House a year earlier. The colleges (besides Wageningen, the others were Delft, Twente and Eindhoven) became universities overnight. A management move, more than anything else, says former rector Cees Karssen. Nothing changed for the students. Besides the fact that they would be studying from then on in a university! That did sound different from school, no matter how 'high' it gets (hoogschool = 'high school' or college).
1986 was the year when the World Cup football was played in Mexico - without the Netherlands - and the year of the Chernobyl disaster. The Wageningen Science Shop was set up. The end of summer ushered in 1034 first year students who began their university studies in Wageningen. Nothing then had pointed to the huge drop in first years which was to come (see graphic). In September, the first research student assistants (oio's) came on board. In October, the new student funding scheme was implemented, which, besides a fixed basic grant, imposed interest on a portion of the supplementary grant from then on. In addition, minister Wim Deetman announced big cost-cuttings in education. Thus, mind and soul were kept really occupied.

A farming university
The new name did however do justice to the development of the Agricultural College. Wageningen had already been much more than just agriculture, horticulture and forestry for a long time. In the past decades, Wageningen had been increasing its involvement in environment management, food technology, dietetics and biotechnology. De Zeeuw made this clear in the annual report of that year. That was it: academic research and education. Giving it a new name, in other words, was the right thing to do. Wageningen has proven this in the past twenty five years. A farming university it has become. Even if it remains an outsider in many aspects. It deserves to be congratulated.

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