The original Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, founded by the Metropolitan of Kyiv Petro Mohyla in 1615, was one of the most distinguished and earliest among higher educational institutions in Eastern Europe. Its aim was to master the intellectual skills and learning of contemporary Europe and to apply them to the improvement of education in Ukraine. Taking his most dangerous adversary as his model, Petro Mohyla adopted the organizational structure, the teaching methods, and the curriculum of the Jesuit schools. An objective in establishing this type of school was to raise the standard of Eastern European education to Western European degrees of excellence. From its beginnings, this school was conceived by its founder and first rectors as an institution of higher learning, offering philosophy and theology courses and supervising a network of secondary schools. The academic programme was based on the liberal arts and was organized into fourteen grades.
The undergraduate programme was based on the liberal arts and designed to develop oratorical skills as much as the acquisition of a body of knowledge. It was organized into five grades. The three lower grades were essentially grammarian. The intermediate level consisted of two grades, in which students began to compose Latin prose and verse. Beyond the five grades, higher education consisted of three-years philosophy programme that paved the way to four years of theology.
Open to young men from all social strata, the Academy attracted students and scholars not only from Ukraine but from many European nations. The individual's quest for intellectual, cultural and spiritual development was at the center of its concerns. Many of its graduates continued their studies in European universities. From among those who graduated from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy came forth renowned philosophers, economists, theologians, influential cultural personalities as well as important political leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Serbia, Bulgaria and other countries.
The political and cultural circumstances in Ukraine were fundamentally altered in 1686, when the city of Kyiv and hitherto autonomous Kyivan metropolitanate were placed under Muscovite jurisdiction. Suddenly, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was exposed to the much dreaded regimentation of the Muscovite Partiarch. To Moscow, the conquest of Kyiv and the incorporation of the Ukrainian Church was the culmination of the long-term policy of "gathering the Russian lands". Moscow's expanding political power and increasing interference in Ukrainian affairs threatened the Academy's freedom and well-being. Gaining control of the Kyiv metropolitanate, the Patriach of Moscow attempted to end the intellectual influence of Kyiv of Moscovite society by placing almost all Kyiv publications on an index of heretical books. It was forbidden to print books in Ukrainian. Although in 1693 these linguistic restrictions were eased, Ukrainian books were denied entry into Moscovy.
Nevertheless the Academy flourished at the end of the 17th century and enjoyed its golden age during the glorious Hetman Ivan Mazepa's reign (from 1687 to 1709). The enrollment at the time exceeded 2,000. But the Academy's golden age came to an abrupt end with Mazepa's defeat at Poltava in 1709. The school's properties were plundered by Russian troops. Students from Right-Bank Ukraine, which was under Polish rule, were no longer admitted. By 1711 the enrollment fell to 161. Graduates of the Academy were encouraged to seek positions in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Peter the First's ban on Ukrainian publications and religious texts in Ukrainian was a heavy blow to the Academy.
But after Peter's death, the school revived. Modern new courses were added to its curriculum. Graduates were encouraged to complete their education in European universities and many sons of wealthy Cossack families studied abroad. The Academy continued to educate the civic and ecclesiastical elite. However, Catherine the Second's abolition of the Hetmanate in 1764 and secularization of the monasteries in 1786 deprived the Academy of its chief sources of financial support. The school became a ward of the Russian imperial government and its importance declined rapidly. In 1817 the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was closed down.
In terms of its over-all profile, the Academy's adoption of a specifically European education was largely conditioned by the social and religious demands of early 17th-century Ukrainian society. The Kyiv-Mohyla Academy had an ambitious programme. Church Slavonic, Ukrainian, Polish, Greek, Latin and Hebrew led the list along with rhetoric, mathematics, history, geography, astronomy, economics and medicine. In time, French, German and Russian were added. Language played an important role - not only the study of foreign language, but language as such: a great deal of attention was paid to poetics, rhetoric, world literature.
For its day, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy had an enormous library made up of over 12,000 books and manuscripts. The library was originally founded by Petro Mohyla but continued to expand. For over 200 years the school served as a center for learning, research, the arts and sciences.
The great historical importance of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was expressed by the bishop of Smolensk, Gideon Vysnrtskyj, in a letter requesting the service of Kyivan scholars:
The Kyiv Academy always abounded in learned personages, and it bears the universal honor in that, as the Orthodox Athens, it serves as a sourse of wisdom for entire Russia to draw upon.
Thus the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy played a profound role in the sociopolitical development of Ukraine, in the re-birth of Ukrainian culture, and in exposing Ukrainian youth to world civilization, arts, letters and learning.
The closure of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was a tremendous set-back to the development of Ukrainian culture.
Consequently, upon gaining independence of Ukraine in 1991, the idea of resurrecting the academy as a modern University functioning as a center of international stature found strong support among scientific, educational, political and cultural circles both in Ukraine and abroad.