Brief history of the U3A movement

How the U3A movement began

The U3A movement began in France at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Toulouse in 1973; it was started by Prof. Pierre Vellas. Most French U3As are still connected with a local university, and this model is also often used elsewhere in continental Europe.

The U3A movement in the UK

In 1981, Peter Laslett, Michael Young and Eric Midwinter proposed bringing the U3A concept to Britain. However, they rejected the French model and instead wanted groups of people to get together to learn what interested them. There would be no distinction between the learners and the teachers – everyone could take a turn at being both if they wished.

The movement grew very quickly and by the early 1990s, a U3A was opening every fortnight. 2010 saw overall membership hitting the quarter million mark.

At the end of 2016 the U3A movement reached the milestone of 1,000 U3As, celebrated by a conference with speakers including Eric Midwinter. (The thousandth U3A was established not far from Winchcombe, at Churchdown!)

Today, the movement includes over 400,000 U3A members in the UK, and is continuing to grow fast.

The Third Age Trust has defined the constitution and ground rules for all the independent U3As in the UK. The U3A National Office recently moved from Kent to London; its website is at

U3A worldwide

The UK’s peer learning model is also used in Australia, Cyprus, Dominica, New Zealand and South Africa. In addition, as mentioned earlier, many European countries have adopted the French system of links to local universities. Some of them have quite long histories already; for example, the Slovenian Third Age University began in 1984 and has developed into a network of forty universities covering the entire country.

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