The first age of learning is the learning of childhood into adulthood – preschool, school, college and university. The second age is the skills learned at work. The University of the Third Age (U3A) provides opportunities for learning beyond the years of school and employment.
The University of the Third Age started in France in 1968 when legislation was introduced that required universities to provide more community education. By the early 1980s the idea had reached the UK and the Commonwealth, where it was changed to become more of a self-help organisation, rather than a series of programs run by universities.
The late Cambridge academic Dr Peter Laslett started the ‘Cambridge model’ which recognises that retired people have a lifetime of experience and collectively a vast amount of knowledge. Under this model, each U3A group is absolutely autonomous, self-financing and run by management committees democratically elected by its members.
There is no distinction between ‘teacher’ and ‘taught’. Course leaders and tutors are drawn from the membership, although non-U3A community volunteers may occasionally conduct short courses or a one-off presentation.
There are no entrance qualifications required to join U3A, and there are no exams or certificates. Learning is for enjoyment, to keep active in mind and body and members enjoy the social aspects as well.
Newcastle U3A (previously known as Hunter U3A) offers programs in two semesters – from February to June, and July to November. Courses cover a diverse range of interests including meditation, bushwalking, local and family history, music, poetry and creative writing, travel and languages, mah-jong and chess and even belly dancing.
Based until recently in the Civic Arcade, Newcastle U3A is currently seeking affordable accommodation in the city area.
U3A also has online programs offering courses and other useful resources for older people who may be geographically, physically or socially isolated. These programs offer both independent study and study with a course leader. All that is required is access to a computer with an Internet connection and some basic computing skills.