About U3A

U3A is the University of the Third Age, a self-help organisation for people no longer in full time employment. It provides educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment. There are local U3As all over the UK, which are charities in their own right, run entirely by volunteers.

Local U3As are learning cooperatives which draw upon the knowledge, experience and skills of their own members to organise and provide interest groups in line with the wishes of the members.

The teachers learn and the learners teach and the U3A approach to learning is – learning for pleasure. There is no accreditation or validation and there are no assessments or qualifications to be gained.



The U3A had its origins in 1973 in France, where local U3As were guided by the local university. In 1981, a Cambridge academic, Peter Laslett, hosted a conference to discuss bringing U3A to the UK. In drawing up the objects and principles of the U3A, Laslett rejected the French model and its links to universities.

While the French model remains the typical approach to organising U3As in continental Europe, the self-help model favoured by Laslett has been widely adopted by Commonwealth countries.

The first U3A in the UK was established in Cambridge in 1982 and a national committee was also set up. It consisted of three members, including Peter Laslett, plus a representative from Age Concern who was the executive secretary and the only employee. Most of the initial funding came through a grant of £9,000 from the Nuffield Foundation.

From these beginnings, U3A has expanded steadily and today there are over 1000 local U3As in the UK, with over 400,000 members. Northern Ireland has 23 groups, with around 6,000 members.

The U3A movement in the UK is affiliated to the AIUTA/IAUTA (International Association of Universities of the Third Age), based in the founding university in Toulouse.


U3As consist of a number of interest groups which run weekly, fortnightly, monthly or just occasionally, meeting in halls, members’ houses or at outdoor locations. They cater for a very wide range of activities, reflecting the interests of the membership.

Group leaders are volunteer members, except in the case of activities like Pilates or yoga where there are health and safety considerations. The leaders are often assisted by convenors who look after the practicalities of running a group, for example matters concerning membership, premises and refreshments.

Each U3A is different, with the activities on offer depending on the skills and interests of the members. In North Down & Ards there are over 70 interest groups in six categories: Arts and Crafts, Cultural Appreciation, Languages and Literature, Social Activities, Special Interests, and Sports and Fitness. Details can be found in the Activities section of the website.


The Third Age Trust, established in 1983, is the national representative body for U3As in the UK. It is both a limited company and a registered charity. It underpins the work of local U3As by providing educational and administrative support to their management committees and to individual members and assists in the development of new U3As.

The Trust is managed by a National Executive Committee which consists of a Chairman, three other Officers and 12 representatives from the UK regions. It is funded mainly by annual subscriptions paid by member U3As on a per capita basis, with the occasional grant for specific projects. It has seven full-time and seven part-time staff and is located in Bromley, Kent.

National Office contact details:

Third Age Trust
52 Lant Street
London SE1 1RB

Tel: 020 8466 6139 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am - 5.00pm)  Website: www.u3a.org.uk

Resource Centre
for both administrative and materials support

Tel: 020 8315 0199 (Tuesday to Thursday, 9.30am - 4.00pm)


Northern Ireland Web Design provided by BCS Web Design