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L’université du troisième âge

U3A

 

The Tauranga U3A website reports on the origins of U3A

The Beginnings

In the 1960s France had no continuing education, so it passed legislation to allow the University of Toulouse to found what they called 'The Universite of Troisieme Age' or UTA. The Third Age;' became the European term for retirement; the First and Second Ages being childhood and working life. The French system used the university buildings and its lecturers.

England 1980. Trinity College, Cambridge had been funded to research the education of the elderly in England. This task fell to three men, all Cambridge Dons and all approaching retirement. They were: Eric Midwinter, a distinguished educator, Peter Laslett, an eminent socialist and Michael Young, later to become Sir Michael Young . (Laslett and Young were responsible for the introduction of 'The Open University' to Britain.)

Having heard of the French UTA, Laslett and Midwinter visited France to determine for themselves the suitability of the system for their purpose. Their conclusion was that although an excellent system for the requirement of France it was too elitist. "Second agers, mostly men, deciding what third agers should learn" A further, very important consideration was the fact that the French system required university personnel and buildings to accomplish its purpose, meaning that only participants who lived close to these facilities could attend. This effectively prohibited a very large section of the retired population from becoming members. The three Cambridge men knew that older people were perfectly capable of teaching each other and deciding for themselves what they wanted to learn. With this in mind the three set about organising the first English U3A in Cambridge. It is this mutual learning principle, forming a learning cooperative, which marks the U3A movement today.

U3A is the abbreviation for University of the Third Age as adopted by the French. In New Zealand we refer to it in the abbreviated form, U3A, to differentiate it from the New Zealand degree-granting universities which we are not.

Three things influenced the founding of U3A " The rise in numbers of the elderly section of the population as health care improved. " The wish to provide for educational, cultural and social needs of this section. " The wish to do this through self and mutual help with no external aid. Those three learned men arrived at some conclusions that have since shaped U3A's all over the world. " It is a self-help learning cooperative. There is no qualifying criteria or exams of any sort. " Participants choose their own study subject. Those who teach, also learn. " The organisation is totally voluntary. U3A's everywhere use the same model that we in Tauranga use. For example, there are 150 U3A's in Australia and 28,300 in China!

"From little acorns, oak trees grow!" The social aspect of U3A cannot be overstated, everyone is welcome and members are friendly and supportive. The emphasis is on learning, enjoyment and fun!