What Is U3A?

The Age of Active Retirement - People Exchanging Knowledge

University of the Third Age (U3A), is a learning community organised by and for people who are in retirement. The word 'University' is used here in the old connotation of the early medieval university where groups of students gathered together and shared their experience and knowledge.

Another aspect of the term 'University' is in the sense or implication of 'University of Life', where much of what is shared is the product of life experience, for the benefit of life experience.

U3A is a response to the idea that human life is divided into three periods: firstly, childhood and schooling; secondly, independence and maturity, child rearing and work; thirdly, retirement.

U3As are for people in retirement or semi-retirement. They enable members to share intellectual, cultural, creative, physical and leisure interests. These activities encourage positive ageing, and provide fulfilment and personal enrichment.

University of the Third Age began in France in the mid seventies and has now spread to most countries. There are around 70 U3As in New Zealand, over 150 in Australia, over 700 in the UK and over 28,300 in China in 2004. Extensive U3A on-line resources are provided by Griffith University in Australia and by the UK Third Age Trust. U3A groups vary greatly in size, many having a membership of 100-200 members, but some exceed 2000 - 3000. There is also vU3A, a world wide Virtual U3A group running meetings solely via computers. The target for this group includes older people who are isolated - geographically, through illness or because of personal commitments.

U3As are voluntary, non-profit organisations which are non-sectarian & non-political. There is no central governing body, each group sets up its own organisation and programmes, run by volunteers from among the group's members. Groups fund themselves, arrange speakers for the regular meetings, often drawing on their own members to share their specific experiences and talents. There are no advantages, either material or financial, for those who volunteer their services.

There are no exams, no educational requirements, no compulsory activities. Costs are minimal to suit everyone, and meetings are held during the daytime.

Many members have a zest for continued learning and recognise the importance of this. Overall, U3A members are people wanting to widen their interests and to share activities in an informal, friendly and supportive setting.

Note: U3A is the acronym for Universities of the Third Age based on the British self-help model. The usual international acronym is UTA.

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