U3A is the University of the Third Age, a self-help organisation for people no longer in full time employment. It provides educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment. There are local U3As all over the UK, which are charities in their own right, run entirely by volunteers.
Local U3As are learning cooperatives which draw upon the knowledge, experience and skills of their own members to organise and provide interest groups in line with the wishes of the members.
The teachers learn and the learners teach and the U3A approach to learning is – learning for pleasure. There is no accreditation or validation and there are no assessments or qualifications to be gained.
You can read about the U3A Vision and Mission here.
The U3A had its origins in 1973 in France, where local U3As were guided by the local university. In 1981 a Cambridge academic Peter Laslett hosted a conference to discuss bringing U3A to the UK. In drawing up the objects and principles of the U3A, Laslett adapted the French model to be a more self-sufficient organisation, not associated with universities.
While the French model remains the typical approach to organising U3As in continental Europe, the self-help model favoured by Laslett has been widely adopted by Commonwealth countries.
The first U3A in the UK was established in Cambridge in 1982 and a national committee was also set up. It consisted of three members, including Peter Laslett, plus a representative from Age Concern who was the executive secretary and the only employee. Most of the initial funding came through a grant of £9,000 from the Nuffield Foundation.
From these beginnings, U3A has expanded steadily and today there are over 1000 local U3As in the UK, with over 400,000 members.
The Third Age Trust
The Third Age Trust, established in 1983, is the national representative body for U3As in the UK. It is both a limited company and a registered charity. It underpins the work of local U3As by providing educational and administrative support to their management committees and individual members, and assists in the development of new U3As. It is funded mainly by annual subscriptions paid by member U3As on a per capita basis, with the occasional grant for specific projects.