Third Age – age of active retirement following the First Age of childhood and dependence and the Second Age of working and home-making. For many it’s the age of achieving one’s maximum potential after the stresses of the Second Age are past and before the Fourth Age of dependency and that other ‘d’ which I won’t mention.


U3As are Universities in the original sense of the term – communities of people who come together to learn from one another, rather than as degree granting institutions. So a U3A is a learning co-operative of older people, encouraging positive ageing by enabling its members to share many educational, creative and leisure activities. There are no entry qualifications, apart from being in your Third Age, no exams and no degrees. It’s simply relaxed, informal learning in a friendly and supportive environment. On an SBS ‘Insight’ program on 3/11/09 Dr Michael Valenzuela of UNSW said that a well-rounded, intellectually diverse life, a good social network and social engagement and physical activity should help to keep one’s brain healthy for as long as possible. U3A ticks all these boxes and enables people in their 3rd Age to continue to share the journey of life-long learning..


The movement is international, having begun in Toulouse, France in 1973 as a type of university extension with courses conducted by members of the various university faculties. It spread to other parts of Europe and North America and then to England in 1981 where, unlike France, its ties to universities was to disappear. In 1984 it came to Australia, first Melbourne, then Adelaide, Perth, the ACT, Brisbane and finally Sydney. Some NSW regional centres’ U3As have been established for more than 20 years. Griffith’s was formed in 2003.


Australia’s U3As follow the English model and are independent of the universities. In NSW the various groups are autonomous, though there is an umbrella organisation, U3A Network NSW, which represents 60 U3A groups in NSW and the ACT and 14 from interstate and provides exchange of information, advice and support, access to Government as well as a Resource Library and access to cost-effective insurance and licences.


So how does a U3A operate? By drawing on the skills and interests of its members, acting either as course leaders or tutors. Everyone has interests and many are prepared to share those interests with others. If that involves research at the local library or via the internet, then that enhances the experience, for as they say it’s amazing what one learns from imparting information to others. Often that will in turn encourage others to contribute something from their own experience, which is what it’s all about. Of course, some will no doubt require encouragement to come out of their shell, but that too, is part of their learning experience.


Courses can be as varied as a U3A choses (Griffith currently has courses on Geography and Industries as well as a general discussion group, which usually includes current affairs and encourages participation by members reluctant to stand in front of a class presenting a topic). Some U3As run many more courses, including cryptic crosswords, sudoku, bridge, tai chi, art, craft etc even a Men’s Shed. Maybe there aren’t other groups in their communities involved in such activities, but in Griffith we are well served with such organisations so we can’t see any point in competing with them. Besides some of our members also belong to these groups and also we feel our limited manpower is better employed in areas unlikely to be covered by anyone else. Co-operation with such groups can be encouraged by having them talk to your U3A about their areas of activity.


U3As’ courses are generally only limited by their members’ interests and the availability of leaders/tutors. Not being a university city, Griffith has limited access to trained tutors. A U3A might start by ascertaining its members’ interests and as to whether members are prepared to impart their knowledge of those interests for the benefit of other members. More than one member with the same or similar interests might consider pairing up to share the task, which can enhance the experience for all concerned. Some members may benefit from someone conducting a class on giving an effective presentation, which might include an OHP, or Power Point, white board etc to better hold members’ attention.  


Griffith U3A follows every class with morning or afternoon tea to enhance the social aspects of U3A as well as arranging one or two excursions a year eg to a couple of Hay’s museums, with lunch at Booroorban Pub and an overnight trip to Wagga Wagga to look over Charles Sturt University.


Most U3As operate on a modest annual subscription (Griffith’s is $30) enabling members to join any or all the year’s classes. The level of subscription will depend on such costs as accommodation for classes, equipment, such as a white board and of course photocopying and the other administrative costs associated with running any organisation. Your local council may be able to suggest some low cost accommodation, perhaps a meeting room at the local library. If classes are small to start with, then private homes may be an option.