The University of the Third Age, or U3A as it is commonly known, was based on an original idea from France and founded in this country in 1982 by Brian Groombridge in London and by Peter Laslett in Cambridge. As we were the first U3A in London, we continue to use that name, although there are now many more in Greater London and over 800 throughout the country. In common with all others, our U3A consists of a group of men and women who are no longer in full time employment and meet together to study a wide range of subjects. In our case all meetings (except Monday Talks) take place in the old Hampstead Town Hall, on Monday to Friday during term time. There are currently about 180 study groups on offer, all of which are run by members. We are all volunteers: no-one who works in our U3A in any capacity is paid.
We are not university in the modern sense of a body which awards degrees, but in the original sense of a community of people engaged in learning – and learning from each other. Many of our tutors are highly qualified – other very popular tutors have no qualifications at all. It is a policy of our U3A that no qualifications are requested, and none are given. We offer no examinations, certificates or qualifications: we study for the pleasure of learning, and the leaders of our groups are called “co-ordinators” rather than teachers or lecturers, because learning is seen as a co-operative process.
Like all other U3As we are autonomous: we make our own rules and regulations and are responsible to no higher authority. We receive no government or local authority grant and are entirely self-financing. There is also a national organisation called the Third Age Trust which represents the U3A movement in the UK and provides support, advice and a wide range of services to new and existing U3As.