19. sajandi Tartu ülikool kui seisuste sepikoda: kõrghariduse ja ülikoolide asendist Vene seisuste ja riigiteenistuse korralduses.

University of Tartu in the 19th Century as the Workshop of Classes: On the Position of Higher Education and Universities in the Structure of Ranks and Civil SErvice of the Russian Empire


  • Toomas Hiio




Historical research on the University of Tartu has focussed on the
university as a centre of learning and scholarship. In addition, the
influence of the University of Tartu on the emerging national movements
of the minority nations within the Russian Empire in the 19th
century, but also its role as a pillar of Baltic German national, religious
and class identity have been explored in detail. Cut off from
other countries in the past, Estonian researchers tried to prove that
the university had international academic contacts, but also stressed
its role as an academic mediator between Russia and the West. However,
those topics have sometimes overshadowed taking note of the
more material aims of 19th century students: joining state service and
developing a career as a member of the growing Russian bureaucracy.
In Imperial Russia, as in many countries in Continental Europe,
the government treated the university primarily as an institution for
the preparation of educated and qualified staff for the state’s needs.
Since the first quarter of the 19th century, only young men with a
secondary school certificate were enrolled in a university and a punishingly
hard examination had to be passed for getting a diploma or
first-level (candidate) degree. Often, a career in state service (comparable
to contemporary public service) followed. Emperor Peter the
Great introduced the table of ranks reflecting the 14 ranks of higher
civil servants and military officers as early as in 1722 and it served as
the scale describing state service until the end of the Russian Empire
in 1917. In Russia as well as in many German countries, many fields
of activity staffed by high-ranking professionals required higher education:
physicians (who were required in particularly great numbers in the army), secondary and parish school teachers, university professors
and other academic staff, and, naturally, government and local
government officials. Protestant clergymen needed to have a university
diploma or degree and the protestant church had its own service
The privileged classes of the society—the nobility and clergy—were
not able to cover the need for civil servants in 19th century empires.
Particularly in Russia, the nobility served as officers in the military,
while large landowners and Protestant clergymen were responsible
for fulfilling the spiritual needs of the population. (However, during
the 19th century the proportion of the sons of Orthodox clerics grew
consistently among the general body of students in Russia). Therefore,
more and more students had to be recruited from the lowerstanding
rural and urban classes. This also mirrors the improvement
of the material situation of the lower classes, particularly during the
second half of the 19th century, because receiving instruction at a secondary
school, not to speak of the university, was expensive despite of
the scholarships for talented young men and the support system offered
to poor students. Even the attempt of Emperor Nicholas I (reign
1825–1855) to prohibit the enrolment of young men from the lower
classes did not work in the end.
In Russia, universities attracted young men from the lower classes.
It was one of the two main opportunities of being elevated from
their subordinate social status. The second one was military career
through voluntary recruitment and officer school. The main disadvantages
of subordinate status even after the abolishment of serfdom
(in 1816–1819 in the Baltic Governorates and in 1861 in all of Russia)
were capital tax and potential unvoluntary recruitment to the
army (swapped for general compulsory military service in 1874), and,
last but not least, possible physical punishment in the case of committing
an offence (abolished in 1904).
State service offered many privileges. Owing to obtaining a university
diploma or first-level degree, the student was released from
his subordinate social status and could begin his service career along
the abovementioned ladder of service ranks. Achieving a certain rank
afforded a personal (non-hereditary) noble title and a much higher
rank also gave the right to a hereditary title. Initially, there were only two privileged classes in Russia, the nobility and clergy. In 1832, one
more was created—non-hereditary or hereditary honorary citizens,
which became the estate of men from the middle and lower classes
with a university education, even if they did not join state service.
This class was attributed to all men who did not belong to the nobility
or clergy when they received their university diploma. (Honorary
citizen rights were also awarded to the upper middle class of the
cities, mainly merchants and industrialists.) Moreover, state service
guaranteed a state pension depending on the person’s rank from the
day of retirement onwards. Rank also defined the way how a person
would be addressed: Your Well Born, Your Blessedness, Your High
Blessedness, Your Excellency etc. The importance of this in a class
society could not be underestimated.
An academic career at a university was part of the general state
service system. By the end of the 19th century a Rector of a university
got the rank of Active State Councillor for his service. The respective
military rank was Major General. A full-time professor was a State
Councillor, a professor extraordinarius was a Collegiate Councillor
etc. As mentioned above, there were 14 ranks altogether. A university
diploma gave the right to join the 12th rank of state service (District
Secretary), a candidate degree afforded the 10th rank (Collegiate
Secretary) and a doctoral degree the 8th rank (Collegiate Assessor).
Another important step in the integration of university education
and the state service system was the introduction of general examinations
for obtaining a university diploma and university degree.
Until the early 19th century, in Continental Europe degrees were
mainly awarded by the universities themselves and the requirement
of a prior exam, if it existed at all, was decided upon by the university.
In Russia, examinations were introduced in the field of medical science
(medicine, surgery, pharmacy and veterinary medicine) in 1808,
in all other specialities in 1819. Service ranks and the integration of
receiving and providing instruction at a university with this system
survived with few changes until the end of the Russian Empire in


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