About the U3A

The seeds for ‘Lifelong Learning for older people’ were sown at the Summer School of the Universite du Toulouse held in Toulouse in 1972. This led within a year to the formation of the ‘International Association of Universities of the Third Age’. In 1981, Cambridge University academic Peter Laslett hosted a conference in Cambridge to discuss the possibility of bringing the U3A to Britain. The conference attracted the social entrepreneur Michael Young, whose many initiatives include the Consumers Association and the Open University. It also produced an invitation from the BBC for Eric Midwinter, director of the Centre for Policy on Ageing, to be interviewed on the radio programme You and Yours on July 22 1981. That short interview was the first chance anyone outside a small circle of educationalists had to hear about the U3A. The U3A in the UK started by the creation of the Third Age Trust in 1982 as registered charity No.288007, company No 1759471.

Peter Laslett wrote the objects and principles of the U3A. He firmly rejected the French model – the French Universite du Troisieme Age had started in 1972 – in which the local U3A was guided by the local university. Laslett wanted groups of people to get together to learn what interested them, and they would have, not a teacher, but a group leader or convenor, who could co-ordinate and help guide their efforts. The U3A should not be dependent on public funds. He believed state funding would be tied to state policy.

Local U3As were to be self-governing, and open to all Third Agers; their purpose must be educational in its widest sense, which meant that “educational” embraced including leisure pursuits and social purposes; and they must be democratically run.


The Universities of the Third Age (U3As) in the United Kingdom are autonomous, self-help organisations run by the voluntary efforts of their members. All U3As are members of the Third Age Trust (a Registered Charity) which is their national support and advisory body. The word “university” is used in its original sense of people coming together to share and pursue learning in all its forms.

• To encourage and enable older people no longer in full-time employment to help each other to share knowledge, skills, interests and experience.
• To demonstrate the benefits and enjoyment to be gained and the new horizons to be discovered in learning throughout life.
• To celebrate the capabilities and potential of older people and their value to society.
• To make U3As accessible to all older people.
• To encourage the establishment of U3As in every part of the country where conditions are suitable and to support and collaborate with them.