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History of U3As

WHAT IS U3A?

U3A - University of the Third (post-retirement) Age - is a learning co-operative for 'third agers'. This term was coined to refer to what we in South Africa tend to call senior citizens - older people from all walks of life who are no longer in full time employment.

HOW DID IT START?

U3A began in France in 1972, under the aegis of the University of Toulouse. In the French model, faculty members and working academics are course facilitators and lecturers. With its spread to the UK and the realization that Third Agers had the skills to organize and teach their own autonomous learning groups, the nature of the organisation changed and this model has been enthusiastically adopted in more than 30 countries around the world. Today, U3A is a learning co-operative with objects and principles, inter alia, “to assail the dogma of intellectual decline with age”, “to provide from amongst the retired, the resources for the development and intensification of their intellectual, cultural and aesthetic lives”, “to create an institution … where there is no distinction between the class of those who teach and those who learn ….” The word ‘university’ in the name of the institution is used in its original sense, meaning a corporation of persons devoted to a particular activity, not necessarily intellectual. Its course leaders therefore are experienced volunteers. While some may be retired academics, many are amateur enthusiasts!

U3A IN SOUTH AFRICA

The first local example of the UK model was launched in Cape Town in February 2000 by Sylvia and Arthur Schrire. The response was overwhelming. Greater Cape Town currently has over 8000 members, and the current national membership of around 11,000 comprises 26 independent local U3As in Gauteng, Free State,  Kwazulu-Natal, and Western, Southern and Eastern Cape. Courses range from Afrikaans to Yoga, but a core curriculum has emerged. Most U3As have a language group, a creative writing group and others that represent an amazing breadth of experience and interest. There are science and technology studies, history and of course all the 'ologies’. Many social and cultural activities, such as bird watching and wine appreciation, are also on offer.