U3A, or University of the Third Age, might sound rather posh or even off-putting. However, it is based on the principles of self-help and mutual support.
Retirement (the Third Age) offers an opportunity to catch up with activities people have not had time for in the first two stages of life.
The word “university” is used in its earliest sense – a community of learners who get together to help each other in to learn something new.
Like most of the groups in Australia, U3A Central Coast is community based, and not affiliated with a University.
How did the U3A movement begin?
U3A is a world-wide organisation. It began in France in 1968, when the government asked universities to provide more community education.
The first U3A course was a highly-rated gerontology course provided by Toulouse University for local retired people in 1973.
U3A was open to anyone over retirement age. No qualifications or examinations were required and fees were kept to a minimum. The idea spread rapidly throughout Europe and across the Atlantic to Quebec and California.
The British model
The French model was closely tied to universities, which presented most of the courses. In the British model these university ties disappeared. There was no distinction between the teacher and the taught. Members would, as far as possible, be teachers as well as learners.
This self-help approach is based on the concept that there are community “experts” in many fields who are happy to share their knowledge and skills. Dr. Peter Laslett from Cambridge University started this community-based model, known as the “Cambridge Model” of U3A which is common to U3As in Australia.
The British model of U3A was introduced into Australia (Melbourne) in 1984, and has since spread rapidly throughout Australia. There are more than 300 U3A groups in Australia and national membership continues to grow.