The University of the Third Age(1)

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.

The 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

    • Membership of a U3A is open to all in their third age, which is defined not by a particular age but by a period in life in which full time employment has ceased.

    • Members promote the values of lifelong learning and the positive attributes of belonging to a U3A.

    • Members should do all they can to ensure that people wanting to join a U3A can do so.

  2. The Self-help Learning Principle

    • Members form interest groups covering as wide a range of topics and activities as they desire; by the members, for the members.

    • No qualifications are sought or offered. Learning is for its own sake, with enjoyment being the prime motive, not qualifications or awards.

    • There is no distinction between the learners and the teachers; they are all U3A members.

  3. The Mutual Aid Principle

    • Each U3A is a mutual aid organisation, operationally independent but a member of The Third Age Trust, which requires adherence to the guiding principles of the U3A movement. (UK only)

    • No payments are made to members for services rendered to any U3A.

    • Each U3A is self-funded with membership subscriptions and costs kept as low as possible.

    • Outside financial assistance should only be sought if it does not imperil the integrity of the U3A movement.

  1. Resourced from the Wikipedia U3A page.

  2. See Griffith University U3A Community Service Program and April 2016 newsletter

  3. Copied from U3A UK