The article attempts to disclose public and private initiatives as a significant factor in higher education development in Ukraine in the second half of the XIX – early XX centuries, which contributed not only to the quantitative but also to the qualitative development of the industry. It has been established that despite the numerous bureaucratic obstacles individuals, scientific and educational societies actively participated in the creation of public and private higher education institutions of different types – pedagogical, medical, public economy (commercial, agricultural, engineering, industrial), artistic and diplomatic. It has been found out that most of them were university colleges – higher female courses and institutes, which geographically covered virtually all leading centers of education and science of Ukraine – Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Katerynoslav. The experience of fund-raising of public and private higher education institutions in Kharkiv – one of the industrial, cultural and educational centers of the Russian Empire in general and of Ukraine in particular – is generalized. The attention is focused on the long history of the struggle for the distribution of higher schools of the Society for the Mutual Help of Working Women, Kharkiv Medical Society, Kharkiv Merchant Society, Society for the Promotion of Commercial Knowledge, South-Russian Society of Technologists, and others. It is determined that due to public and private initiative and support in the territory of Ukraine there were unique education institutions – Kyiv and Odesa conservatories and Novorosiisk higher international institute. It has been found out that in the investigated period, the initiative representatives of the public struggled actively for the creation of national universities as a new type of higher education institutions, but these plans were implemented later. It has been proved that in the investigated period, in accordance with the urgent demands of the society, the range of specialties which provided training of specialists had significantly expanded, had been intensified the branches of education, in which the most acute problems (pedagogical, medical, agricultural education) appeared, as well as the missing links (economic-commercial, artistic, diplomatic education) had been added. It is confirmed that higher education institutions of a new type mitigated the effects of the protection limitations of the Russian autocracy on access to higher education of the general population, first of all, of women.