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Third Age Concept

What is U3A?

[ University of the Third Age ]

The purpose of U3A is to:
• Encourage further learning by listening, understanding, contributing, researching and participating in discussion and relevant excursions about new topics.
• Tap the great reservoir of knowledge, skills and experience of retired men and women.
• Provide a venue for the meeting together of like minded people to learn, contribute and to make new friends in their local community.

“Those who teach shall also learn.
Those who learn shall also teach”

Peter Laslett - U3A Cambridge, 1981

This is particularly true of U3A which calls us to active learning, often beyond our comfort zone. This provides the zest and excitement of research and discovery about topics which, in our busy working lives, were completely inaccessible to us.

Main Meetings
• Held on a regular basis. (Once a month, once every two months. Last about 2 hours.)
• For half the time there is an invited speaker, a leader in their field of expertise.
• Refreshments are provided with the opportunity to socialise.
• After refreshments, a mini-talk is usually presented. This can be:
One member sharing their knowledge or experience
Study groups taking it in turn to present their “best”, recent talk(s).

Each Special Interest (Study) Group
• Meets regularly once or twice a month.
• Has between 6 and 20 members
• Its programme is chosen and presented by its members.
• Members are supported in organising their presentation if wished.
• New members may present a 10 minute talk to begin with
• Each member takes responsibility for presenting, to the rest of the group, information on the chosen topic. This may come from their own background, experience or research.. Outside speakers are sometimes invited to present but, on the whole members enjoy the opportunity to extend themselves.
• Meets in members’ homes or at community centres.
• A convenor from the group organises the “nuts and bolts”.
• Any member should belong to at least one of these groups. There is no upper limit to how many groups a member may belong to. Just time!
• The real socialising takes place in these small groups.
• By doing this we strive to fulfil the spirit of U3A as stated by Peter Laslett who founded U3A. 

Examples of Special Interest (Study) Groups are: Art for Fun, Inventors, Archaeology, Medical Science, Modern History, Literature, Films, .Ancient History, Travel etc etc
Special Interest [Study] Groups are U3A’s point of difference from other groups for Seniors. Within these groups, the main learning and fellowship occur.

A Committee keeps the organisation running:
• Elected annually.
• About 10 members
• Responsible for such tasks as president, secretary, treasurer, new members, newsletter, setting up the venue for meetings, catering, publicity, convenor support, organising the major speaker and website.

Not all U3As are the same
Each U3A is autonomous and may be slightly different from its neighbour, depending on what resources are available within its membership and within the community. Contact the U3A in your area to obtain more information on the structure and offerings.
The model outlined above is British, the French model being quite different. In France and some other European countries, U3A study groups are taught by working academics, rather like our Continuing Education courses. In Britain, Australia and New Zealand, most U3As are self-help endeavours.

Other Groups for Seniors
There are many groups which offer membership to retired folk. Some of them are listed below:
• Continuing Education classes possibly at Universities and Polytechs.
• Service groups such as Rotary and Lions.
• Sports clubs including Chess, Bridge, Mah Jong, Craft and gardening clubs.
• Social groups such as "Friendship" which offer social contact and interesting speakers.
Before joining U3A, we need to read and consider that U3A is none of the above, although it does contain elements of some of them.

Joining a group which suits our needs and in which we can fully participate is very beneficial to us and to the group as a whole. Active participation is the key to that active brain and fulfilment!

For more information, down load the Starter Kit from the
U3A Resources Page >

Third Age Concept


More is learned when we are babies and small children than at any other time in our lives. Exploration impelled by curiosity and energy and supported by loving carers, ensure that this happens. Imagination and a sense of adventure make our little ones creative and responsible citizens. Retirement gives us time and space to take up again this type of learning.


During our working lives which may involve many “jobs” we have needed to keep learning, developing interests and making new friends.

Our busy lives may not allow time to consider what awaits us after retirement.  Where will we ever find similar stimulation to “keep us on our toes” when our working life is over?


Many people find that U3A meets this need. Guest speakers and Study Groups ensure that our brains stay sharp and move on to new learning.
Active involvement [helping with admin, giving prepared talks to small groups] give us enduring challenges in areas we have never had time for and maybe did not even know existed.
This is gripping, communal FUN. 

U3A stands for University of the Third Age

The guiding philosophy of most New Zealand U3As is that stated by one of our founders in the UK, Peter Laslett:         
       "Those who teach shall also learn
    and those that learn shall also teach".
Thus we are not a University in the modern sense.

The Law in New Zealand is that we can't use University in our title as it reserved for the current University qualification establishments.

Professor Pierre Vellas of Toulouse University

Professor Pierre Vellas and colleagues of Toulouse University recognised the pool of experience, knowledge and intelligence of retired people. They launched U3A in 1973. Eight years later there were 60 of them in France. In the “French Model”, each U3A maintains strong links with a university and is based on attending lectures. His son, also named Pierre Vellas, is at present a U3A leader in France. 

U3A UK Founders Laslett and Coni

In the spring of 1981, Peter Laslett [left] and Nick Coni [right] discussed this development and wondered whether a similar venture would work in Cambridge, UK. To find out, a public meeting was held in the Guildhall in July, resulting in the advent of U3A in the UK. The “English Model” that they evolved, stresses that

“those who teach shall also learn and those who learn shall also teach”.

U3A is a Worldwide organisation

Since then U3A has spread world wide. Some indication of this spread can be seen  here >.
It came to New Zealand in 1989 at Remuera in Auckland. There are now 83 U3As throughout the country, mostly espousing the “English Model”.  It is believed that this model promotes increased personal learning, confidence and enjoyment by reading, research, discussions and field trips.