U3A, L’Université du Troisiéme Age, was founded in Toulouse in France in 1972 where universities began to provide educational opportunities for older adults.
The experiment met with almost immediate success and soon spread to other European countries. By 1981 it was transported to Britain but there it was adapted by a group of Cambridge enthusiasts so that instead of being dependent on universities, as was the ‘French‘ model, it became a movement based on self-help and mutual aid, a kind of ‘intellectual democracy‘. This became known as the ‘Cambridge‘ or ‘British‘ model. Both concepts share the same aim – that of encouraging older people who remain active in their retirement to continue lifelong learning. While those following the French model have close ties with universities for their classes and accommodation, in the Cambridge version you can be a course leader one day, a student the next.
Everyone is encouraged to contribute voluntarily to the running of their U3A in some way. Around the world U3A now has millions of members. However, for various reasons, not all call themselves by that name. Some use the title Seniors Universities, especially in China, some are called Institutes of Learning in Retirement (USA) while in Australia, the name varies according to State/Territory legislation on the use of the word ‘university’.
U3A itself uses the word in its ancient context meaning ‘a community of scholars‘. There is an international body called AIUTA, based in France, which holds conferences every 2 years. (Source: various)
Present & Future
The U3A continues to expand, the United Kingdom now (December 2019) has 1046 groups and over 439,000 members. Membership is growing at 15% a year, making U3A one of Britain’s fastest growing organisations. The NEC (National Executive Committee) is working on plans to make sure the organisation can cope with that level of growth, especially at annual conferences and the AGM.
National U3A Mission Statement
To view the National U3A Mission Statement click here.
Updated 4th January2020