Monday, November 12, 2007

University of the Third Age
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 in 1973 where each group was associated with a local university. This academic model is used in many other countries, in particular in many continental European countries. By the early 1980s, the scheme reached Britain where its nature was radically changed to be more a self-help organisation. This model is also used in Australia, New Zealand, and the Dominican Republic[1].
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 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. Most Groups are regional in nature. However, in 1998 the virtual U3A, U3A Online, [2] was started to provide cognitively challenging courses for isolated older people from any country. Since then the initiative has been widened to include any person who regards themeselves as being in their third age. 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.
Typical courses include, educationally, Art, Classical Studies, Conversation, Computers, Crafts, Debate, Drama, History, Languages, Literature, Music, Sciences, Social Sciences, Philosophy, etc. Some study groups do not have a prepared syllabus, but draw on reports of current affairs in their topic subject to prompt conversation and research. Some groups are designed to cross disciplinary boundaries, for example, combining Society, Technology and Science in a fashion not practical in more formal academic environments. U3A groups are well positioned to conduct serious research into local history and genealogy. For example, a group in Eyemouth collected and exhibited many photographs of life and work in the district over the years. Some groups aim to bridge the generation gap in the field of information technology opening up an exciting new world to many who might have been oblivious of it otherwise. Internet marketing is especially important for members in more remote locations. There are also many less-educational activities - 'Games' including, bridge tuition and duplicate bridge playing groups, 'Health, Fitness & Leisure' including countryside walks, Theatre/Concert Clubs, Travel Clubs, Dance in all its forms etc.
Many U3As publish local newsletters, e.g East Berwickshire U3A and its newsletters , as do some of the special interest networks. The Third Age Trust, the national coordinating body, publishes an educational bulletin 'Sources" for subscribing U3A members three times annually.
The U3A can also provide a valuable resource in considering many local and national issues. Membership includes many with experience and expertise in almost all walks of life and letters. Although strictly non-political, U3A members have time to reflect in a mature fashion on such topics as the operation of public services, crime and punishment, the future of energy supplies, public funding of the arts and so on, and can reply to invitations to engage in public consultations with carefully considered and argued responses.