About Universities of the Third Age

The first University of the Third Age was estab­lished in Toulouse, France, in 1972, to improve the quality of life for older people by giving them access — at moderate fees — to non-credit courses in the human­ities and natural sciences at the estab­lished degree granting univer­sities. The term “third age” denotes the age of retire­ment, following the first age of childhood and schooling and the second age of voca­tional employ­ment. The idea spread rapidly in France and then to other countries of contin­ental Europe. An International Association of Universities of the Third Age was estab­lished in 1975.

In 1981 the idea was intro­duced to Britain by a group based at the University of Cambridge. As Britain had, since early in the century, provided adult education at a moderate fee through co-operation of the Universities and the Workers’ Educational Association, the Cambridge group adopted the idea of a self-help univer­sity — a kind of intel­lec­tual democracy — in which there would be no distinc­tion between teachers and taught. All members would be encour­aged to parti­cipate, either by teaching, learning or assisting with planning and admin­is­tra­tion. This self-help approach reduces the need for depend­ence on outside resources. 

In this envir­on­ment learning is an end in itself; indi­viduals choose subjects they like from the courses offered. No entry qual­i­fic­a­tions are required, and no awards are given. 

The first U3A in Australia was estab­lished in Melbourne in 1984 and since then campuses (or branches) have been estab­lished in all states and territ­ories, and the movement has spread to New Zealand. 

Courses are held mainly in the daytime and, where possible, in community centres, libraries and other public buildings at little or no rent. Space is sometimes found in TAFE colleges. Courses vary in length from 4 to 40 weekly meetings. Single lectures and one-day courses are also held. Subjects include the human­ities and sciences and some practical arts and crafts. Field excur­sions, over several days are sometimes arranged; and overseas tours, based on liter­ature, languages and history are occa­sion­ally offered. (Extra fees are involved for excur­sions and tours). The volunteer teachers and  leaders of courses are retired people with profes­sional skills, or people who have had a lifelong hobby. Many are retired teachers from schools or tertiary institutions. 

Administrative work is done by volun­teers. The work includes receiving enquiries, enrolling members, arranging public­a­tion of courses to be offered, and finding venues for the courses. Newsletters are issued to members several times a year and members then call (if there is an office) or telephone to enrol in a course. 

Membership fees vary according to the oper­a­tional fees of partic­ular U3A’s, but are moderate. No further fee is charged when members enrol in a course. Members do pay for photo­copies of lecture notes and for language text books. 

The Adelaide U3A was the first to be estab­lished in South Australia in 1986 by the efforts of Colin Lawton.