People's Universities

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

People’s Universities


(1) In the USSR, public educational organizations that assist the working people in self-education, cultural development, and improving professional qualifications. The people’s universities originated after the October Revolution of 1917 as one of many forms of general education and cultural enlightenment work. The party Program adopted at the Eighth Congress of the ACP (Bolshevik) in 1919 included a clause concerning the comprehensive state aid offered to people’s universities as extracurricular establishments for the “self-education and self-development of the workers and peasants.”

At the end of the 1950’s the people’s universities were established on a new basis to suit the conditions associated with a developed socialist society, the scientific and technological revolution, and cultural progress. The new goal was to organize an uninterrupted system of education for the entire population and to help form a comprehensively developed personality in the builder of communism. The first people’s universities of the new type were universities of culture.

The 1961 Program of the CPSU noted the need for further development of the system of people’s universities. The goals and tasks of various types of people’s universities were defined in the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU On the Improvement of the Work of the People’s Universities” (Oct. 8, 1968). The place of people’s universities in the system of public education was consolidated by Article 12 of the Basic Principles of Legislation on Public Education of the USSR and the Union Republics (1973). In accordance with the requirements of social development and with the interests and needs of the working people, instruction in the people’s university system is subdivided into a number of categories. The basic branches of knowledge (sociopolitical science, natural science, economics, agriculture, science and technology, pedagogy, medicine, and law) and culture (music, cinema, and the fine arts) account for more than 50 varieties of people’s universities

In 1973 there were about 29,000 people’s universities with a total enrollment of 7 million students, 31 percent of whom were workers; 34 percent, office employees; and 13 percent, kolkhozniks. More than 508,000 scholars and specialists worked on a voluntary basis as unpaid instructors. Education at the people’s universities is free and does not take time from production. Classes are held in schools and higher and specialized secondary educational institutions and at clubs, enterprises, kolkhozes, and sovkhozes.

People’s universities are sponsored by the All-Union Znanie Society, by the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, the Komsomol, the creative arts unions, and the ministries of education, culture, higher and specialized secondary education, and health. A special role is played by the State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, which organizes the “people’s university for the millions.”

In the administrative centers of the Union republics, public councils have been established to supervise the people’s universities. General leadership and coordination of the activity of organizations responsible for the work of the people’s universities is in the hands of the Central Council of People’s Universities in Moscow (established in 1968). Its staff includes 119 well-known scholars and public and state figures. The chairman is Academician I. I. Artobolevskii.


Sbornik dokumentov o razvitii narodnykh universitetov v SSSR. Moscow, 1971.
Vtoraia vsesoiuznaia nauchno-metodicheskaia konferentsiia po problemam razvitiia narodnykh universitetov [fascs. 1–3]. Moscow, 1971-72.
Dubrovina, L. V. Narodnye universitety. Moscow, 1963.
(2) In Western Europe, the USA (from the mid-19th century), and prerevolutionary Russia (from the end of the 19th century), a term applied to various institutions whose goal was to spread elementary general education and professional knowledge among the working people in order to develop capitalist production.
The first people’s universities were established in Denmark in the 1840’s (the Folke höj skolen, or folk high schools). In 1867, J. Stuart, an instructor at Cambridge University (England), developed the principle of the university extension, which consisted of courses of popular lectures on particular subjects. Those attending were required to submit written work for evaluation by the lecturer. Discussions were held after the lectures. People’s universities modeled on the university extension were organized in a number of countries, including the USA, Germany, and Belgium. In France the Université Populaire was, in many respects, similar to a discussion club.
In Russia people’s universities were organized as educational and cultural enlightenment institutions for adults. The first people’s university, the Prechistenskii Courses, was opened in Moscow in 1897. During the Revolution of 1905–07, people’s universities were established throughout the country. The First All-Russian Congress of Leaders of the People’s University Societies was held in 1908. The A. L. Shaniavskii Moscow City People’s University opened during that year. The Bolsheviks made extensive use of this legal form of cultural enlightenment work to propagandize Marxism among the workers and peasants. However, as reactionary attitudes grew more intense, the tsarist government closed almost all the people’s universities.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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