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Tuesday, 10 January 2023

University of the Third Age (U3A)

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.

United States: It’s covered by the Lifelong Learning Institute
I'm listening to Colin Blunstone's wonderful cover of Denny Laine's Say You Don't Mind. You can listen to it here and the original version here


Hels said...

Perfect timing :)
The first U3A branch in Australia began in Melbourne in 1984 and developed nicely. I was not interested at the time, but as my friends all became older, they decided to enrol themselves in various subjects and I would join them on retirement.

The closest branch to me promotes the concept of active retirement with courses and social activities for all sorts of older persons: to broaden knowledge, to minimise social isolation and to promote enjoyment and well-being. I would happily lecture in history and art history, but Covid stuffed everything up. And now they want lecturers in current affairs.

Do you still enjoy the programmes you teach or lead?

bazza said...

Hi Hels. Yes I do still enjoy it (otherwise there would be no point!) In fact I have to constantly resist the temptation to join more and more groups as it can intrude on family life, although Leah is very supportive. Our local group had about 600 members pre-lockdown. Now we have 390 and are rebuilding. We were the most active of the local branches, many of whom suspended operations during the various Covid lockdowns. Most of the groups switched to Zoom. My politics group has one monthly meeting via Zoom and one face-to-face at the South West Essex Reform Synagogue's meeting room. "Active retirement" is at the core of u3a.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - yes I've been a member of one of Eastbourne area's three groups ... I most definitely do not do as much as you! I enjoy history, geology/life science (which sadly has stopped) Memoir writing, and other non U3A organisations ... so keep occupied - you've given a great resume here - thank you! Cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: There are so many interesting activities. Our branch has just started a Freedom Pass group for traveling around London for those with the very generous tube and bus pass that most older Londoners get.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Lucky Londoners! But great your branch is so active ... all's well here though - thanks for posting this ... cheers Hilary

Sherry Ellis said...

Sounds like a fascinating group. I like that there are groups like this that promote learning.

bazza said...

Sherry: It's great fun too. For example there is a group that meets for Sunday lunch in a Pub!
BTW, I have been unable to comment in your Blog. It always me to sign in to Google but I already have!

Vagabonde said...

Dropped by from another blog, this is my first visit to your blog. This u3a sounds very interesting. I checked to see if one was offered here in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt University, which is only a mile from my house, offers the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. They had an interesting catalog for this winter, each course costing from $60 to $100, so a lot more than in your area (membership is $350.). The winter catalog is closed now and they only meet for classes, not informally I believe. I may enroll in one class maybe next year, but right now as I spend half of the month in Atlanta, GA., that would not work for me. But it does sound very stimulating.

bazza said...

Vagabonde: Hi, thanks for looking in. I don't know if Lifelong Learning is a commercial organisation but U3A is a charity so, by UK law, any profits have to be put back in for the benefit of the organisation. There are plenty of good, free resources for many types of learning online though!