The University of the Third Age


From its inception in 1973 in Toulouse, France, the University of the Third Age (U3A) has grown into a movement spanning the planet. Created by Professor Pierre Vellas of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Toulouse, it has, in Europe, continued with the association with the region's local university whilst in the UK, Australia, Cyprus, Dominica, New Zealand and South Africa it has evolved into more of a self-help organisation where the members both give the courses as well as attend them.

During the early 80s the U3A movement started in the UK under, among others, Peter Laslett who wrote a document listing the principles of the UK movement and which form the basis of those within Australia (see below).

Within Europe there are U3As within France, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic and an online version in Russia. The European U3As are associated with their local universities and therefore follow a more pedagogical line with their courses than here in Australia.

In Slovenia, a network of U3As has evolved which encompasses a network of over 40 universities within the whole country.

In the last year an online U3A has been established in Australia through the Griffith University Community Service Program(2) in addition to an already extensive network of U3As throughout the country. Started in Melbourne in 1984 there are now over 230 U3As with over 85,000 members.

There are U3As within NSW, ACT, Vic, SA, Qld and WA, each with their own state networks. The Milton Ulladulla U3A has over 430 members giving us one of the highest per capita numbers within Australia.

Along with Russia, there also exists within the UK a Virtual University of the Third Age aimed at those who by distance or personal circumstance are unable to attend their nearest U3A. As the Milton Ulladulla U3A demonstrates, courses within the universal grouping of U3As are truly eclectic, mirroring the desires and interests of that U3A and the society around them. In addition, many other U3As are now, like Milton Ulladulla, admitting those who are not in full time employment thus broadening their base within society and giving others a chance to participate.

Principles of the U3A Movement(3)

The U3A movement is non-religious and non-political and has three main principles:

1. The Third Age Principle

2. The Self-help Learning Principle

3. The Mutual Aid Principle

  1. Resourced from the Wikipedia U3A page.
  2. See Griffith University U3A Community Service Program and April 2016 newsletter
  3. Copied from U3A UK
  4. The Third Age Trust does not apply to the U3A movement within Australia but MU-U3A is a member of the NSW U3A organisation.