The idea of the university ordinarily connotes a specific structure and academic programme at the completion of which one is awarded a degree or diploma or certificate. I believe, embedded in the idea of the university is the idea of the universe to denote all existing matter and space, hence the universe is really huge. A university is a complex system, an institution for the spread and acquisition of knowledge and skills. Thus universities are often seen to be synonymous with knowledge and education and this is where U3A takes off.

University of the Third Age is built on the understanding that education is a lifelong activity and should not become truncated because of old age and retirement. In fact people in the older age can learn and also make significant contributions to the learning of others. Hence, while U3A focuses on lifelong learning, it is also interested in contributing to intergenerational learning.

According to Wikipedia “The University of the Third Age is an international movement whose aims are the education and stimulation of mainly retired members of the community—those in their third ‘age’ of life. It is commonly referred to as U3A.” Its original conception in France as an extramural university activity was significantly modified in the United Kingdom where it was recognized that most people of retirement age have something to contribute and the emphasis has been on sharing, without formal links to traditional universities. This is very interesting! It was said of Michelangelo that in his prime, he was asked the secret of his artistic excellence and he simply replied: “I am still learning” If we stop learning, we stop growing and we leave ourselves on the dangerous steep of decline. The pursuit of knowledge and wisdom must go beyond the walls of the classroom to our everyday experiences and interaction and the individuals will be more enriched. This is what U3A offers.

University of the Third Age started in France at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Toulouse in 1973. It was started by Prof. Pierre Vellas. In France, each Third Age University group is mostly associated with a local university. This academic model is used in many other countries, in particular in continental Europe. During its early years, U3A had to adapt to the different localities and in the 1990s the concept was broadened to the notion of the University of All Ages (UTA - université tous âges) and University of Free Time (UTL - université du temps libre). The UFUTA changed its name to Union Française des Universités de Tous Ages (retaining the acronym) whilst Prof Vellas is still the president of the AIUTA (Association Internationale des Universités du Troisième Âge).

Many retired people or older people could benefit from further learning and typical courses include Art, Classical Studies, Conversation, Computers, Crafts, Debate, Drama, History, Languages, Literature, Music, Sciences, Social Sciences, and Philosophy. Some study groups do not have a prepared syllabus, but draw on reports of current affairs in their topic subject to prompt conversation and research.U3A groups are well positioned to conduct serious research into local history and genealogy. In Nigeria, we are already exploring ways to prepare adults for life after retirement and also how to share their rich experiences with the younger generation.

U3A thus offers rich opportunities for our adults and senior citizens to continue their learning and also help the generations coming behind by sharing their experiences, skills and knowledge with them in a semi –formal environment.  You can always do a google search to know more about U3A or look for us on Facebook. Dr. Charles Afolabi is the President of the Nigerian Chapter and Fr. Richard Omolade, one of their consultant.

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