People's universities

People's universities (narodni universytety). Community adult-education centers offering anything from technical training to popular lectures on history, literature, the arts, science, and other subjects. In Russian-ruled Ukraine various forms of extramural education developed from the mid-19th century. They were usually organized by the liberal intelligentsia, often through such groups as literacy societies, and without the support of the state or official agencies (in fact, these initiatives were usually opposed by reactionary bureaucrats, who feared the centers would become hotbeds of national consciousness or political opposition). Although they were not formally called such, these various Sunday schools, public readings, and zemstvo schools filled a function similar to that of a people's university, in providing broad access to higher education for the masses.

A more formal system of people's universities, modelled on the system of university extension schools that emerged in Western Europe and the United States of America in the late 19th century, began to develop in the Russian Empire after the 1890s, especially after the Revolution of 1905. Prominent intellectuals and professors (eg, Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovsky and Maksym Kovalevsky) often taught at these schools, each of which attracted thousands of students to hundreds of lectures over the course of the year. By 1917 they had been established in some 40 cities in the empire, including Kyiv, Poltava, Yalta, Kherson, and Odesa in Ukraine. Curricula varied greatly but usually included a broad range of courses in the arts and sciences as well as in vocational skills such as bookkeeping, stenography, and machine operating. Graduates, who received formal degrees, were often eagerly recruited by businesses. Every university was totally autonomous and relied on local sources for funding. During the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20), people's universities flourished, and some, notably those in Kyiv, Kherson, and Zhytomyr, effectively became schools of higher learning.

In Western Ukraine mass organizations, such as the Prosvita, the Mohyla Scholarly Lectures Society, and various pedagogical societies, provided the services that people's universities offered in Russian-ruled Ukraine. The People's Self-Education University, founded in 1930 in Lviv, offered correspondence courses until 1939. In some respects the Lviv (Underground) Ukrainian University also operated as a people's university.

After the consolidation of Soviet rule people's universities no longer existed in their original form. In part they were replaced by evening workers' universities and other institutions for adult education. Some local universities of culture were established in Ukrainian cities in the 1920s and 1930s mostly on the initiative of local Communist Party committees. They offered instruction in culture and the arts, as well as political indoctrination. A more formal system was established after 1958 under the control of the USSR Ministry of Culture and especially the Znannia Society. After concentrating initially on culture, the system soon expanded to include universities of pedagogy, medicine, science and technology, agriculture, Soviet trade, philosophy, history, and other disciplines. Intended at first to provide a broad education with much emphasis on communist ideology, in the late 1960s the universities changed their emphasis, to focus on developing practical skills and job-related knowledge. People's universities do not charge tuition. Courses, taught during a seven- or eight-month academic year, are scheduled to allow students to work full-time. In Soviet Ukraine the universities were administered by the Znannia Society, the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, the Communist Youth League of Ukraine, and the ministries of education, health, and culture. In 1968, people's universities throughout the USSR were placed under the control of the Moscow-based Central Soviet of People's Universities. In 1964 there were 438,000 students, studying at 2,049 people's universities in the Ukrainian SSR; 88 percent of all students were urban residents. By 1987 there were 4,354,000 students, studying at 8,868 people's universities (8,014 were located in cities). Universities offering social and political studies accounted for 18 percent of the total number of universities; medical and health studies, 16 percent; culture, 15 percent; pedagogy, 14 percent; law, 9 percent; science and technology, 7 percent; administration, 5 percent; theoretical sciences, 5 percent; and general studies, 2 percent. The highest concentration of people's universities was in the industrial eastern regions of Ukraine, with 10 percent of all Ukrainian people's universities located in Donetsk oblast.

Lee, David. The People's Universities of the USSR (New York 1988)

Boris Balan, Chrystia Freeland, Bohdan Kravtsiv

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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