The University of the Third Age (U3A) is an international organization, embodying the principles of life-long education and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, in an atmosphere of mutual learning and teaching. Each U3A is a learning community, organized by and for people who can best be described as being active in retirement – the so-called Third Age of their lives.
The term “University” is used in the original and medieval sense of an association or community of teachers and scholars, united in the pursuit of knowledge. Third Age refers to the life period of active retirement, which follows the first age of childhood and formal education and the second age of working life, and which precedes the fourth age of dependence.
The idea of a university of the third age originated from legislation in France during the 1970’s which required universities to provide for lifelong education. The ‘Third Age’ is described as ‘the period of time after the First Age of childhood dependence and the Second Age of full time employment and parental responsibility’.
The French U3A’s from the outset were linked to Universities and remain so to this day.The movement spread quickly, initially to the French speaking countries and then across the globe.
In Britain, although the first steps took place at the Universities of Cambridge and Keele, the movement decided against a university based tuition system usuing professional teachers and decided instead to found a fully participative organisation where the members organised, co-ordinated and took part in a wide range of interest groups. Importantly they established themselves independent of any government agency or grant.From the outset it was agreed that no qualifications were necessary to join, nor were any to be awarded within the U3A.
The first University of the third age was created in 1973, in Toulouse, France at the University of Social Sciences where Professor Pierre Vellas, of the faculty of Law and Economics, conceived the project of offering persons of the 3rd age a programme of activities that would comply with the conditions, needs and aspirations which are relevant to this particular stage of life.
This first example was very soon followed by several other universities which set up their own programmes targeting persons of the third age.
After Belgium, countries that followed include Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Canada, Sweden, Italy, the USA, England, Germany… also Latin America, Africa, Asia and now MAURITIUS!