WHAT ARE UNIVERSITIES OF THE THIRD AGE?
Universities of the Third Age, or U3As as they are more often called are voluntary, non-profit organisations which aim to offer older people low-cost educational opportunities which operate in a pleasant, supportive social setting.
There are no formal entry requirements, no examinations and no "awards". U3As are basically self-help groups built on the premise that collectively older people have the skills and knowledge to provide learning opportunities (education) for themselves. After all, "experts" of all kinds in all fields eventually retire! In fact the word "university" in the title is used in its earliest sense– a community of scholars who get together to help each other in a learning/social experience.
Most of the groups in Australia are community based, but there are several, mainly in the capital cities, which have an affiliation with and receive support from their local University. The principles of self-help and mutual support are the cornerstone of the U3A movement.
HOW AND WHEN DID THE U3A MOVEMENT BEGIN?
U3A is a world wide organisation. It began in France in 1968, when legislation was passed that required universities to provide more community educattion. In 1973 a highly-rated gerontology course was provided by Toulouse University for local retired people, a course which was extremely successful and which led to the formation of what was to be the first U3A. The idea spread rapidly throughout Europe and Great Britain. However in the British model university ties were to disappear. In the new system there was to be no distinction between the teacher and the taught- members would, as far as possible, be teachers as well as learners.
Australia adopted the British model and the first one started in Melbourne in 1984. The first U3A in NSW was established in the Shoalhaven area. The movement has since spread rapidly throughout Australia.
We are often asked why the third age? and it was explained, the 1st age is childhood and schooling, 2nd age is working life, the 3rd age is retirement. This 3rd age has become a lot longer.