The University of the Third Age is an international organisation whose aims are the education and stimulation of retired members of the community – those in the third ‘age’ of life. It is commonly referred to as U3A.

U3A started in France at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Toulouse in 1973. It was started by Prof. Pierre Vellas. In France the Third Age University is mostly associated with a local university. This academic model is used in many other countries, in particular in continental Europe.

By the early 1980s, the scheme reached the United Kingdom where its nature was radically changed to be more a self-help organisation. This model is also used in Australia, Cyprus, Dominica, New Zealand and South Africa.

In the British model it is acknowledged that retired people have a lifetime of experience and, collectively, a vast amount of knowledge. This is used to arrange a syllabus for each subject where each meeting is normally led by a member of the group with specialist knowledge. Each U3A group pays a capitation fee to the national coordinating body, and has access to a vast range of resources including a multi-media lending library, special interest newsletters and contacts with other groups with similar interests. Summer schools are held by special interest groups. Most importantly, each Group is an absolutely autonomous entity, self-financing and self-managing.

On 1 January 2009, after four years of experiments and testing, the Virtual University of the Third Age (vU3A) was launched with the intention of offering the same friendship, support and learning enjoyed by terrestrial groups. vU3A is open to anyone, in particular those who, by circumstances of isolation, health problems or other restrictions, cannot get to a U3A group. There is a small fee.

Volunteers run the entire operation, including teaching, in cyberspace. There is general agreement that not only physical but intellectual activity enrich and prolong life in the later years. Although primarily for the retired, many U3As open their membership to any people not in full-time employment, thus becoming more inclusive and widening the age range of the membership.

Thanks to Wikipedia