History of the U3A
The University of the Third Age began in France. In 1972
in Toulouse, a successful summer school for retired people prefaced the very first Université du Troisième Age. This
was quickly followed by programmes in other towns close to Toulouse and the notion spread rapidly, not only in France.
Such was the take-up of the idea in other countries that an international body known as the International Association of Universitiés
of the Third Age (AIUTA) was established as early as 1980.
Contacts with the founder members of U3A in the UK were made
in 1978 and these were maintained and built on over the next three or four years.
The French model centred around
universities. A committee of retired people negotiated a contract with its university for the use of its facilities
and tuition. Our founder members although greatly impressed by the achievement in France and stimulated by the magnificence
of the concept, felt there were drawbacks to this version. In effect a U3A could only operate if there was a conveniently
situated university. Moreover what was offered was traditional academic fayre and too much power could rest with the professional
It was felt by Peter Laslett, Eric Midwinter and Michael Young that it should be possible to form a
local U3A anywhere there was a sufficient number of like-minded people; that the curriculum should be as broad as possible
and that it should be managed by the people themselves.
The self-help model was born.
In 1981, Peter
Laslett hosted a meeting in Cambridge, attended by educationalists and scientists, which discussed and lent support to the
notion of bringing the U3A ideal to Britain. This was quickly followed by a workshop organised by Eric Midwinter to
which anybody who had shown an interest in the idea was invited. These meetings led to an application to the Nuffield
Foundation for financial aid and the decision to hold a public meeting in Cambridge. The meeting was judged a success,
a view reinforced by the request from BBC Radio 4 the next day for an interview about the events of the previous evening.
The effect of the first ‘U3A’ broadcast was amazing – over 400 letters arrived in a few days. The
grant application was also successful and it was determined to hold an experimental Easter school in Cambridge in March 1982.
75 people enrolled, the classes were mainly in traditional subjects but with considerable scope for discussion and participation.
By the finish, a Cambridge U3A was a certainty and a decision was taken to form a national committee. A U3A in London
was also on the cards. The national committee performed a dual function; it was both a small propagandist machine trying
to persuade others to start U3As and a hub for keeping the growing number of groups in some form of meaningful contact.
U3A groups were born in different parts of the country; Yeovil, West Midlands, Nottingham, Oxford, Wakefield, Barnstaple.
In 1983, a second seminar was held and 22 delegates turned up representing localities where U3As had either started
or were under consideration. It was tantamount to a national conference and local U3As were invited to become
formal members of the national body, which was registered as both a company limited by guarantee and a charity in October
By the end of 1983, eight U3As were officially registered and the U3A movement was on its way.
The Universities of the Third Age (U3As) in the United Kingdom are autonomous, self-help organisations run by the
voluntary efforts of their members. All U3As are members of the Third Age Trust (a Registered Charity) which is their
national support and advisory body. The word “university” is used in its original sense of people coming
together to share and pursue learning in all its forms. U3As have the following aims and guiding principles:-
To encourage and enable older people no longer in full-time paid employment to help each other to share
their knowledge, skills, interests and experience.
To demonstrate the benefits and enjoyment to be gained and the new horizons to be discovered in learning
To celebrate the capabilities and potential of older people and their value to society.
To make U3As accessible to all older people.
To encourage the establishment of U3As in every part of the country where conditions are suitable and to
support and collaborate with them.
U3As are guided by the following principles.
U3As offer learning activities which reflect members’ wishes and which aim to satisfy
the widest possible range of interests: educational, cultural, recreational, physical and social (Laslett
Principles 6,9,14 & 15).
U3As seek resources appropriate to their learning; from their own memberships; from the Trust’s national
support systems; and from outside organisations, both local and national. (Laslett Principle 12)
U3As make use of new technologies as they become available.
2. Purpose, Styles and Methods of Learning.
The pleasure of learning is a driving force in the work of U3As.
U3As neither require nor award any qualifications. (Laslett Principles 2, 8 & 14).
By sharing their learning, U3A members help one another to develop their knowledge, skills and experience.
(Laslett Principle 1).
U3As arrange and support their own programmes as appropriate to their chosen learning activities.
(Laslett Principle 10).
U3A members regard themselves as both learners and teachers. (Laslett Principles 1 & 7).
U3As are funded in the main by the subscriptions of their members. Funding from outside sources may
be sought on occasions and is accepted only if there are no conditions attached which might conflict with the Trust’s
aims and guiding principles. (Laslett Principle 3)
Members undertake themselves, without payment, the many and varied tasks necessary to run their U3A.
Usually, paid tutors are engaged only when special expertise is necessary to ensure the health and safety of members taking
part in certain activities, when U3As do not have an appropriately qualified member available. (Laslett Principles 4
4. Reaching Out.
U3As take every opportunity to promote the benefits of learning later in life and the attractions
and advantages of the U3A way of learning. They make membership available to the whole spectrum of older people in their
communities. (Laslett Principles 2 & 8).
U3As keep in touch with members and former members who, for a variety of reasons, can no longer take part
fully in U3A activities; in order to maintain their interest in learning and to offer friendly support, a fundamental part
of U3A life. (Laslett Principles 7).
As appropriate, U3As offer voluntary assistance in learning activities to educational and cultural bodies
in their communities. (Laslett Principles 5 and 7).
U3As collaborate with institutions such as museums, galleries, libraries, in learning partnerships in which
both U3As and the institutions themselves may benefit through research, advancement of knowledge and mutual respect for capabilities.
(Laslett Principles 6, 13 & 14).
U3As engage with local and national government departments and other agencies that formulate lifelong learning
policies and practices in order to influence those that relate particularly to learning in later life. (Laslett Principles
12 & 15).
U3As are ready to collaborate with institutions undertaking research into ageing and the position
of older people in society. (Laslett Principles 16 and 19)
U3As collaborate with each other to share expertise and facilities and offer systems of support.
They may form themselves into regions or neighbourhood associations. (Laslett Principle 18).
U3As work, individually or together, to establish and support new U3As.
Our mission is to further promote the interests of
our organization and our members to the community. We strive to make a difference by educating the public and expanding our