Fact Sheets

The following are fact sheets produced by U3A South Australia, about U3A. See the Download button for a copy to print.

  1. What is U3A?
  2. How to Start a U3A
  3. How U3A Began –

What is U3A

All U3As are different however there is a core of shared values and behaviours. A U3A (University of the Third Age) is a self-help organisation providing learning, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment for people in their active retirement years, usually described as over 50 who are no longer in full-time employment.

U3As are learning co-operatives and draw upon the knowledge,
experience and skills of their own members to organise and provide interest groups in accordance with the wishes of the membership. Some also invite guest speakers.

U3A is an international movement and run entirely by volunteers. Each U3A is independent and run by an elected management committee of members. Everyone is encouraged to be involved in the running of their U3A.

Whilst passive members may think they are getting a good deal, it is those motivated members who teach and are involved in the administration who receive most benefit. Sharing knowledge and life skills with an appreciative audience does wonders for self-esteem stretching abilities and learning new skills to maintain a website or write a newsletter keeps you sharp and can give a great feeling of accomplishment. Volunteering also gives a sense of purpose to our lives. There is a growing body of research that shows volunteering is associated with better physical and mental health.

U3A believes in learning for pleasure. It provides the opportunity to mix
with alert, like-minded people who enjoy doing new things. There is no accreditation, no assessments nor qualifications to be gained. Groups usually meet during the day, wherever a room can be begged or borrowed. Courses, too numerous and varied to list, can last an hour or a lifetime.

For a small annual membership plus costs, if any, members may enrol for as many courses as they wish.

How to Start a U3A

Starting and running a U3A is a rewarding experience for you personally
and for your community. Here is the process

  • Contact U3A South Australia (u3asouthaustralia@gmail.com or through the website www.u3asouthaustralia.org.au). They can provide you with information, advice and ongoing support. Seeding money may be available to cover initial expenses.
  • Learn about U3A. Familiarise yourself with the publicity material available so you can give a brief but accurate answer which will win people over to your cause. Don’t confuse people with too much information.
  • Let people know what’s in it for them. Rather than explaining the name or history, tell them how they will benefit: low cost leisure learning and activities, the opportunity to meet people who share their interests, warding off dementia, making the most of retirement years.
  • Gather a small circle of helpers to work with you through to the first big milestone: a public meeting to formally launch the project.
  • Publicise the project and the meeting to ensure its success.
  • Look for people who have the skills to be future committee members of group leaders.
  • Invite U3A SA and any neighbouring U3A to attend the public meeting to assist with explanations. Be aware that every U3A is different and a product of what its members want so you will not be a carbon copy of any other U3A.
  • Inform everyone at the public meeting of your intention to start a U3A, ask for volunteers to form a steering committee to achieve that goal, and acquire as many names with contact details (especially email addresses) as possible of those who want to become members and may even help by becoming group leaders within their area of expertise/interest.

How U3A began

It started in France
The Université du Troisième Âge (University of the Third Age) was founded
in 1972 at Toulouse University, France. By 1975 the idea had spread to
universities across Europe. The original French model required U3As to be
associated with traditional university systems.

Their course content and presentation were a mix of open lectures,
negotiated access to established university courses, contracted courses,
study groups, workshops, excursions and physical health programs.

The British changed it
U3A reached Cambridge in 1981 and they adopted a style which ensured
no distinction between the tutors and those being taught. Members could
become teachers as well as learners. The strengths of this self-help approach include: minimal fees; accessible classes run locally; flexible timetables and flexible teaching styles; a variety of courses ranging from the highly academic to arts, crafts, social and physical activities.

Now it is very Australian and “just U3A” to its mates
We have the French to thank for a brilliant idea and the awkward name.
Troisième âge (third age) is a term for the years of ‘active retirement’ that
come between working life (second age) and dependent frail old age
(fourth age).

Some people are confused by the name or intimidated by the use of
‘university’. That is why we are “just U3A” to our friends. We have the British to thank for the system which works very well in Australia where many of us live a long way from a university and in an era where education has become a user-pays commodity wiping leisure
classes off curricula across the country.

Staying active: mentally, physically and socially
Research shows that staying mentally alert, physically active and socially
engaged wards off the worst evils of ageing and helps seniors remain
living independently in their own homes for longer. This is what makes
U3A a first-rate positive ageing organisation.