The University of the Third Age is an international organisation whose aims are the education and stimulation of mainly retired members of the community – those in their third ‘age’ of life. It is commonly referred to as U3A.
The third ‘age’ refers to the period in life after the second ‘age’ of full-time work and parenting.
U3A started in France at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Toulouse in 1973. In France the Third Age University is mostly associated with a local university.
By the early 1980s, the scheme reached the United Kingdom where its nature was radically changed to be more a self-help organisation. This model is also used in Australia, Cyprus, Dominica, New Zealand and South Africa.
U3A underwent a substantial change when it reached Cambridge in 1981. Rather than relying on university good will the founders of the British model adopted an approach in which there was to be no distinction between the teachers and the taught.
U3A was introduced to New Zealand in 1989 and has now grown to over 78 branches.
Each New Zealand branch is independent and is modelled on the UK self-help approach. Accordingly, the branches remain responsive to the needs of the local community. Although the courses are basically educational, the great majority are run in private homes so branches tend to be small and friendly, and participants get to know each other well. The study program is flexible and covers a wide variety of teaching and learning styles and preferences. Some courses are academically quite demanding, others are more of a recreational nature. In addition to the regular academic program many branches hold monthly general meetings in suitable halls, and these often feature an invited speaker. The branch meetings are popular and well attended, and help build a sense of belonging to a diverse and growing organization.
An international perspective of U3A can be found at http://www.worldu3a.org/resources/u3a-worldwide.htm.