MOSCOW, FEB. 17 -- Soviet ideology chief Yegor Ligachev said today that the Soviet Union will not be able to reform its economy successfully without "serious change" in the nation's educational system.

Ligachev, whose power is considered second only to that of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, told a meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee that the system needed to produce more economists and managers, teach workers the technological skills necessary for the computer age and set up a network of specialized training schools in big cities.

"There is clear awareness in the leading bodies, among the party activists and among broad sections of the public that without achieving serious change in the educational system . . . we shall not be able to attain a fast speed in our constructive endeavors and make marked progress," the official Soviet news agency Tass quoted Ligachev as saying.

In keeping with a number of recent articles in the Soviet press lambasting the school system, Ligachev said that educational reforms put into place before Gorbachev came to power in 1985 have showed "a dearth of resolution and a lack of scope."

The Central Committee, which ostensibly is concentrating on educational reform at this plenary session, also is expected to approve a number of personnel changes, one of which is the probable ouster from the ruling Politburo of Boris Yeltsin, the former Moscow Communist Party chief.

Yeltsin, who is now deputy head of a construction ministry, caused a furor last October when he pushed Gorbachev to accelerate the pace of reform in a notorious, and still secret, speech lambasting conservatives in the Soviet leadership. That speech, as well as Yeltsin's assaults on the party bureaucracy, led to his downfall.

Politburo member and Ukrainian party chief Vladimir Shcherbitsky, an associate of the late leader Leonid Brezhnev, is to many Soviet reformers a remnant of the old, disgraced regime, and some analysts thought that he also would be demoted by the 300-member Central Committee.

An announcement on Moscow radio yesterday that Shcherbitsky is being awarded the Order of Lenin to mark his 70th birthday, however, suggests that he will hold his seat in the Politburo, according to western analysts.

Gorbachev is expected to speak at the plenum, but today it was his sometime rival, Ligachev, who held the stage. In describing the educational situation, Ligachev employed moderate rhetoric in the service of reform.

Ligachev said that the system can neither be ignored nor demolished. "We are not, of course, going to alter everything that lends itself to change," he said. "The Soviet school will remain uniform, work-oriented and polytechnical."

But Ligachev said that schools "should not be uniform in the primitive sense of typification and standardization that still determines the activities of whole collectives of teachers and tells strongly on the way the educational system is run.

"Socialism has nothing to do with standardizing the forms and methods of work, with standardizing thoughts, behavioral patterns and actions. More socialism means more diversity."

Gorbachev appears dedicated to moving the Soviet Union into the age of the computers, and already has advocated their widespread use. Since he came to power, they have been introduced gradually in a wide range of schools and offices.

Ligachev, who is often described as a conservative force in the Politburo, showed a certain flexibility in his speech today as he supported students' "right to creativity, to the choice of method of instruction."

He said it was crucial for students to learn history and for students living outside the Russian Republic to learn both Russian and native tongues such as Ukrainian, Latvian and Lithuanian.

Activists in the Baltic republics and Central Asia have often fought against the linguistic dominance of the Russian language and of Moscow in general, and at least on the issue of language Ligachev seemed to agree. "No privileges, no restrictions are permissible in the question of language," he said.