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Never too late to go to university – U3A that is

Your Life

Never too late to go to university – U3A that is

The University of the Third Age is not only about education, but also offers social, leisure, creative and exercise classes. JUDY RAFFERTY looks into its history, direction and goals and concludes it’s a winner.

I have a number of friends who attend or teach in a University of the Third Age. You may already be attending or teaching in a University of the Third Age (U3A).

I regularly suggest to older adults that they participate in a group activity and often I mention U3A. Last week I thought I had better look into U3As to ensure my anecdotal knowledge had an evidence base.

In case you do not know the organisation, a U3A aims to encourage older people to become a teacher and share knowledge, skills and interests in a relaxed environment or to attend as a student.

The teacher or tutor does not need formal qualifications and the learner is not subject to completing homework or exams.

In addition to educational courses, there are social, leisure, creative and exercise groups.

As I understand it, members must be over 50 and either in retirement or semi-retirement.

The first U3A started in 1974 in France when the Toulouse University Social Sciences school ran a course for retired people. From there the U3A idea spread quickly to other European countries and to America.

Initially, U3As were based on the French model so that they were connected to, and even funded by, local universities.

When the first U3A started in 1981 in Britain the model changed a little.

The U3As disconnected from the universities to source both teachers and students, as well as funding, from within the U3A.

In Australia, the first U3A began in Melbourne in 1984 and Australia followed the British model.

By 1984, there were 108 U3As and 18,000 learners around Australia. Currently in Queensland there are 35 U3A groups with an estimated 24,000 members.

While the history of U3As is interesting, what they offer and what they might provide from a wellbeing perspective is of more importance, I think.

A link provided by a U3A site referenced a report by Dr Martin Bridgestock titled Impact of U3As upon the Health and Welfare of their Membership.

He concluded that “a large number of pieces of research all point in the same direction. The three types of activity offered by Universities of the Third Age – learning, physical activity and social ties – all have marked benefits for participants.

“They all have measurable positive impacts upon cognitive and other mental functions and help to stave off the degeneration often associated with advancing years.”

The conclusion was that the activities promoted by Universities of the Third Age are strongly beneficial to the physical and cognitive health and wellbeing of members.

I tried to look further afield for corroboration and found a statement by the Council On The Ageing (COTA), which stated: “In general, the results showed that U3A members reported themselves in better physical and mental health than non-members. They also had a more positive attitude to their lives.”

Enough evidence I concluded! I am happy to keep suggesting people explore either becoming a teacher or a student or both.

It is a suggestion directed towards maintaining wellbeing and quality of life with good mental and physical health. And that is what it’s all about isn’t it?

Judy Rafferty  is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.

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