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About the U3A Movement
The University of the Third Age (U3A) is an international organization, embodying the principles of life-long education and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, in an atmosphere of mutual learning and teaching. Each U3A is a learning community, organized by and for people who can best be described as being active in retirement - the so-called Third Age of their lives.
The term “University” is used in the original and medieval sense of an association or community of teachers and scholars, united in the pursuit of knowledge. Third Age refers to the life period of active retirement, which follows the first age of childhood and formal education and the second age of working life, and which precedes the fourth age of dependence.
Origin of the Universities of the Third Age
The concept of U3A was developed in Toulouse in 1972, to bring older people into contact with academic programs at the University. It spread rapidly through France and throughout Europe. Many universities either arranged for older people to participate in existing academic programs or established new programs specifically designed for Third Age students.
The first British U3A was established in 1982 at Cambridge. In contrast with the French experience, where U3A have a close association with traditional universities, as providers of educational programs, the British U3A have developed only outreach links with the universities.
Instead, they have embraced principles of self-help and self-determination, structuring programs and courses to meet the wishes of members and drawing on resources available within the membership as far as possible. These same principles have been adopted by U3A in Australia.
Development in Australia
In July 1984, a public meeting was arranged in Melbourne to gauge public interest in U3A. As a result the first U3A was established in Melbourne City, followed by another in Hawthorn and the first courses were offered at the beginning of 1985. During that year two other U3A, one at Monash and one at Ringwood, were inaugurated. There are now some 97 U3As in Victoria with some 24,800 members and more than 100 Australia-wide with a total national membership exceeding 40,000.
Whilst there are common objectives shared by all U3A, there are also broad differences of interest patterns, structure and organization, determined by the particular needs of each U3A and the resources available locally to meet those needs.