Founded in 1982, the UNIVERSITY OF THE THIRD AGE (u3a) is a UK-wide movement loosely based on the original French version. It consists of locally-run interest groups that provide a wide range of opportunities for those who are no longer in work, to come together to learn for fun (although there is no actual minimum age.) Members explore new ideas, skills and activities together. There over 1,000 branches with around 400,000 members; membership costs less than £20 on average per year. u3a has members who draw upon their knowledge and experience to teach and learn from each other but there are no qualifications to pass – it is just for pleasure. Learning is its own reward. It is entirely voluntary and typical u3a will be home to many activity groups covering hundreds of different subjects - from art to zoology and everything in between.
From the start, the guiding principles were to promote non-formal learning through self-help interest groups covering a wide range of topics and activities as chosen by their members. The u3a movement was to be self-funded, with members not working towards qualifications but learning purely for pleasure. There would be no distinction between the learners and the teachers – everyone could take a turn at being both if they wished. The movement grew very quickly and by the early 1990s, a u3a was opening every fortnight. 2022 saw the 40th Anniversary of the movement in the UK and they are celebrating with a year-long programme of events and celebrations. There is also a National Scheme of lectures, currently mostly on Zoom. These often feature national experts in various fields.
Personally, I run a twice-monthly Political Discussion Group and lead occasion guided, historically-based walks and occasionally I speak on various subjects, usually about art. I take part in various groups; my local Redbridge & District Group features language conversation classes, many discussion groups (general, science, art, psychology etc), pub lunches, weekend walks, knitting, gardening, cooking, play-reading, table-tennis and so on. The movement is now international in USA, Australia and elsewhere but each country has its own unique model.UK: https://www.u3a.org.uk/
United States: It’s covered by the Lifelong Learning Institute