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The UN rating of the level of development of a given country is established on the basis of three categories:26_1.gif (20083 bytes) the quality of education, life expectancy and the level of economic development. The latest UN Human Development Report-1998 places Ukraine in the group of "developing countries." A low rating is a result of Ukraine's faltering economic performance and a relatively short life expectancy but as far as the quality of education in Ukraine is concerned it has always been rated high. Education in general and higher education in particular. The fact that graduates of Ukrainian universities can be found working in many parts of the world, can be regarded as evidence of a fairly high level of higher education in Ukraine.

The 29th Session of the UNESCO General Conference (Paris, 1997) resolved to put the KPI (Kyiv Polytechnic Institute) National Technical University on the list of the Anniversaries of Important Events, celebrated in the years 19981999. It was done in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Kyiv Polytechnic, which is one of the oldest establishments of higher learning in Ukraine. At the time of its foundation it was the leading technical school in the whole of Eastern Europe. 12 other schools of higher learning in Ukraine alone trace their origins to the KPI from which they have branched out.

The Kyiv Polytechnic was founded on August 31, 1898. At the time of foundation it had only 4 departments with 360 students enrolled. The Polytechnic graduated its first 84 engineers in 1903. The head of the examination board was Dmitry Mendeleev, an outstanding chemist known for bringing into prominence the periodic system of classification of chemical elements. Since then the KPI have graduated 160 thousand engineers, among whom there have been about six thousand foreigners.

Now the KPI with its 25 departments is one of the biggest universities of its kind in Europe. Its students' enrolment is about 27 thousand people and there were times when the number of students at the KPI reached 35 thousand. Two thousand full and associate professors provide a high-quality tuition. In 1993 the KPI became the first school of higher learning in Ukraine to be accredited at the highest (fourth) level, and in 1995 it was again the first to get the status of an autonomous school. In the past five years the KPI has been turned into a technical university that meets all the sophisticated requirements of today. The KPI is widely regarded as a leading technical school of higher learning in Ukraine, and it has a potential of becoming one of the leading technical universities in Europe. The State Polytechnic Museum of Ukraine was opened in one of the oldest buildings of the KPI and some pieces of the KPI old-time equipment used in the early years of its existence for teaching purposes were placed there as museum exhibits.

The KPI graduates now as well as a hundred years ago feel proud to have studied at the Polytech (as it is often referred to). They are as always in the vanguard of the technological progress in Ukraine.

Some Historical Facts

At the end of the 19th century the Russian Empire rates of economic development accelerated and engineers and technicians were badly needed to meet the new requirements. Only 7.5% of the factories' managers of the country had degrees of higher education. About one third of the engineers were foreigners.

To remedy the situation six polytechnic schools of higher learning were established within a short period between 1898 and 1902. Among them the Kyiv Polytechnic which was named after the Czar Alexander II.

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Kyiv Politechnic Quad today.

At the turn of the twentieth century Kyiv was rapidly transforming into a major administrative, economic, trade and political centre of the Russian Empire. It was also a very big railroad junction. In 1870 Kyiv went over to natural gas and later to electricity in lighting its streets and homes. In 1872 running water became a feature of Kyiv households and twenty years later a sewage system was introduced. In 1869 the Commodity Exchange was founded in Kyiv and in 1870 an all-metal thousand-meters-long bridge the first of its kind in Europe spanned the Dnipro River in the vicinity of Kyiv. It was in Kyiv that an electric streetcar again the first in the Russian Empire started running along the city streets in 1892. A great variety of styles in architecture of the time gave the city a refined architectural appearance.

The capital of the Malorosiya (Small Russia), as Ukraine was most often referred to in the Russian Empire, grew to be a cultural centre as well. It was in a rapid transit from a provincial town to a booming modern city. Literature, theatrical arts, scientific research were on the rise in Kyiv. Cultural figures of world standing either worked in Kyiv or visited it on a regular basis.

In spite of the fact that Kyiv had by the end of the nineteenth century had two big seats of learning the St. Volodymyr University and Mohyla Academy (the oldest educational establishment of higher learning in Eastern Europe, founded in the early seventeenth century) the rapid economic growth required an establishment of a new-type technical school for training engineers and for being a technological and scientific research centre. In spite of the obvious need in a growing number of engineers the state did not allocate any money from the budget for opening a polytechnic school and the funds raising campaign was launched. The money was donated by wealthy businessmen and public organisations.

The prominent architect I. Kitner was commissioned to design the buildings of the new school. And he built an impressive architectural complex in Shulyavka, one of the suburban areas of the then Kyiv. The somewhat severe neo-Romanesque style of the buildings makes them an easily distinguishable landmark, admired today both by the students and tourists. A great assistance in starting the Kyiv Polytechnic going was provided by several prominent scientists of the time (D. Mendeleev, M. Zhukovsky, A. Kovalevsky, K. Timiryazev).

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Professor Yevhen Paton (first row, third on the left) and his students. 1910s.
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Student Sikorsky in a plane of his own design. Kyiv, April 3, 1910.
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Serhiy Koroliov, a Politechnic graduate, and Yuri Gagarin, first cosmonaut.
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Yevhen Paton in front of a T-34 tank. 1940s.

From the very outset the KPI operated not only as a students' training institution but as a research centre as well, turning out scientists and researchers who played a prominent role in the development of science and technology in Ukraine. Among the graduates of the KPI one finds Academician Yevhen Paton who made very important contributions to the theory and practice of electric welding. Thanks to the new revolutionary technique of welding, the tank T-34 was regarded to be the best armoured vehicle of the Second World War and it did help win the war. Another KPI graduate, Stepan Tymoshenko, a member of the French Academy of Sciences was one of the world's leading scientists in the studies of resistance of materials. S. Korolyev, the designer and promoter of rockets and artificial earth satellites (Sputnik I and the first man in space were among his achievements) was trained at the KPI, as well as a host of other prominent scientists in many spheres of technology (V. Chelomay, rocket engines; F. Anders, airship building; M. Delone, aeroplanes; D. Hryhorovych, O. Nikulin and many others).

Ihor Sikorsky, the aeronautical engineer who is known best for his contributions to building US helicopters (he emigrated to the US in 1919 and was naturalised in 1928), was born in Kyiv and trained at the KPI. He was interested in aeroplane design from his youth and he built and flew the first ever multimotor aeroplane in 1913. In 1914 he built and flew even a bigger plane (Illya Muromets, named so after a mighty fairy tale warrior) in fact one of the biggest planes in the world at the time. Thanks to his pioneering efforts Russia became one of the leaders in designing and building aeroplanes.

KPI Today

The Kyiv Polytechnic, in spite of being a hundred-year old establishment, is keeping abreast with the changing times. In recent years a number of new departments have been set up: aviation and space systems; management and industrial marketing; linguistics; law; sociology. The introduction of liberal arts departments makes it possible for students to receive two degrees within the usual period of studies. More departments are to be opened soon: foreign languages; law studies; social studies.

Sports activities are flourishing at the KPI as well. Several recent years have seen three world champions and six European champions who are graduates or students of the KPI. Cultural life at the KPI is not lagging behind either with many cultural events involving hundreds of students.

The KPI maintains close contacts with research and industrial centres in order to provide its students with good training grounds and its graduates with opportunities for finding good jobs. The Ukrainian economy going through market-oriented reforms, does need a lot of well-trained engineers and managers to promote these reforms and meet the stringent requirements of our times.

By Andriy Shestakov
Black and white photos courtesy

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