Ashby Cites Ill Effects in Africa Of Britain's Educational 'Elitism'

The imposition of British educational philosophy on the African university has created a gap between the educated African and his people, Sir Eric Ashby said in the second of his Godkin lectures at Sanders Theater last night.

In Britain, Ashby said, universities operate on Gresham's Law--that bad money drives out good money, or that university education for the masses drives down the quality of the academic degree. This English "elitist" philosophy was transferred to African universities when they were established in the 1950's, Ashby said, and the effects of elitism are still felt.

Graduates Allenated

Because only the very able few can get a university education in Africa, Ashby said, the impact on the college graduate "is something inconceivable." He is separated from his traditional way of life, and inevitably finds that the gap between himself and his people is very great.

In addition, Ashby said, the graduate's degree "obliges him to live in a Western way, whether he likes to or not. It stretches his nerve between two spiritual words, two systems of ethics, two horizons of thought. In his hands he holds the terrifying instrument of Western civilization. His problem is how to apply this instrument to the welfare of his own people."

Neglect African Studies

Ashby also said that the tradition of specialization in British universities has led African universities to neglect "giving full weight to studies of special value to Africans." Until recently, Ashby said, no African language could be studied at university level in West Africa.

"The national need in Nigeria and Ghana was for a sprinkling of highly specialized experts and scholars, and a broad stream of less differentiated graduates with general degrees to man the civil service and to teach in schools."

In medicine, for instance, the Africans have a great need for men who can specialize in preventive medicine and child health, Ashby said. Students in the major medical school in Nigeria were obliged to follow an inflexible course designed for an "affluent society with an infantile mortality among the lowest in Europe."