The University of the Third Age (U3A) is an organisation offering all kinds of educational, creative and leisure activities to anyone who is no longer in full-time employment or full-time parental responsibility. There is no lower age for membership. Members organise their own activities and use their skill and knowledge to form self-help groups. No qualifications are required and none are awarded.
The seeds for 'Lifelong Learning for Older People' were sown at the Summer School of the Université du Troisième Age held in Toulouse in 1972. This led within a year to the formation of the 'International Association of U3As' (AIUTA). The movement soon became worldwide. In the UK, the U3A started with the creation of the 'Third Age Trust' in 1982 as registered charity and limited company.
In the UK it was decided during early discussions to adopt an approach that was independent of the Universities. It was realised that Third Agers themselves had the skills to organise and teach in their own autonomous learning groups, the local U3As. The principle was to be not "they teach us" but "we teach one another". In Europe and America development has been more dependent on the universities.
There are now some 900 U3A's throughout the United Kingdom with a total membership of about 322,000. Each local U3A develops its own character in response to local needs and resources. Because a U3A is in effect a co-operative and has no campus of its own, fees are low.