The following synopsis was created by Brian Groombridge, July 2003.


With awarning&thanks

'The University of the Third Age in Britain has been launched more times than a rubber boat in a high wind" - Dianne Norton, 1984.

The U3A has been such a success that there are inevitably many colourful stories about its origins. I have tried in the following to be as accurate and fair as possible. The broad outlines are reasonably clear.

I have used documents from the time and benefited from the help of Audrey Cloet, Hilary Greenwood, Sidney Jones, Eric Midwinter, Dianne Norton, Anthony Tomei, Mary Wane and Cynthia Wyld.


1960The National Institute of Adult Educationand theNuffield Foundationinitiate a pioneering enquiry.NIAE publishes Education and Retirement: an Enquiry into the Relevance of Education to the Enjoyment of Leisure in Later Life, by BrianGroombridge.

1975 Education for the Elderly, SidneyJones, (North London Polytechnic),The Technical Journal (June and July issues).

1976Liberation of the Elders, SidneyJones, Beth Johnson Foundation and Department of Adult Education, University of Keele, Stoke-on-Trent.

1976and after: An informal group explores ways to open up educational opportunities for older people. They include AledaErskine(Adult Education Officer, Help the Aged), Dr FrankGlendenning(Keele University Department of Adult Education and Beth Johnson), SallyGreengross(Deputy Director, Age Concern England), BrianGroombridge(Professor of Adult Education, London University), EdwardHutchinson(Director, National Institute of Adult Education), Prof DavidJames(Surrey University Department of Adult Education), SidneyJones, (North London Polytechnic), Dr PeterLaslett(Director, Cambridge University Historical Demography Group) DianneNorton(Age Concern England), WilliamTyler(Principal, Manchester College of Adult Education), and IanWalker(Norfolk Adult Education Service).

1978Sidney Jonesvisits Elderhostel events in the USA, returns with increased conviction that the UK needs something of the kind.


1972Prof Pierre Vellas, University of Toulouse, organises experimental summer school for retired citizens of Toulouse. It is a great success.

1973University of Toulouseformally decides to set up the firstUniversite du Troisieme Age.


1978Two exploratory missions to France

"Peter Laslett(supported by Elmgrant) to L'Universite du Troisieme Age, Caen;

'"Brian Groombridge(as guest of MaryWaneat the British Council in Parts):c UTAs atParis X Nanterre, Grenoble and Lyon, accompanied by CynthiaWyld(Administrator, Beth Johnson Foundation).

All three return enthusiastic and convinced that this is the model to build on and adapt for this country. Their news is welcomed by the informal group of colleagues exploring possibilities of expanding opportunities for learning in later life.

1980 Educating our Elders', PeterLaslett, provocative article inNew Society; 13 March.


1978 - 1982 Support for the idea developed in Keele and the University of Surrey as well as in Cambridge and London. Those involved includeDr Mark Abrams(Age Concern). Prof DavidJames(Surrey University),Dr Frank Glendenning(Keele and Beth Johnson), Dr ChrisPhillipson(Keele University Department of Adult Education). PeterShea(senior lecturer, Department of Extra Mural Studies, London University), MannesTidmarsh(Sheffield Polytechnic), and CynthiaWyld(Beth Johnson)
London-Keele-Lyon-Grenoble Summer Schoolsorganised with UTA colleagues in France and the UK for UTA members and retired UK adult education students.

1979 - 81French links reinforcedby PatnciaFloriet(UTA, Grenoble), HeleneReboul(UTA. Lyon), MaximilienneGautrat(UTA, Paris X Nanterre), BrianGroombridge, and others. Co-operation between the two countries benefits from the work and ideas of Prof. MichelPhilibert(University of Grenoble and Grenoble UTA) internationally well-connected cc-director of the Centre Pluridisciplinaire De Gerontologie, PeterLaslett'sphilosophical opposite number.

1980 MichaelYoung, Director of the Institute of Community Studies, Bethnal Green, shows interest in the U3A idea, consults PeterLaslettand BrianGroombridgeThey encourage him to become actively involved.

1980 AutumnAnglo-French conference at Wye College, 'Learning, Education and Later Life', supported by UNESCO, the British Council and the Department of Education and Science Publishes theWye Declarationa statement of principles and policy by BrianGroombridge. Published in Adult Education, National Institute of Adult Education, London, and in a French translation in Gerontologie by MichelPhilibert.

1981 January: The informal group gets properly established asFREE - the Forum for the Right of Eldersto Education, co-ordinated by DianneNorton, Age Concern. FirstFREEmeeting hosted by Sidney Jones at the North London Polytechnic. Advocates opportunities for older people in the state system and through broadcasting as well as through self-help.

1981 April: SidneyJoneswith Help the Aged support startsLearning In Later Lifecourse at North London Polytechnic. StellaRosenakstarts something similar at Middlesex Polytechnic.


1981 February PeterLaslettconvenes meeting in Cambridge at which eminent social scientists, including MichaelYoungand EricMidwinter, Director of the Centre for Policy on Ageing, support proposal to start a U3A in the UK.

1981 Meeting of the enthusiasts (members of FREE and others), organised by the Nuffield Foundation and the Centre for Policy on Ageing (Director, EricMidwinter) favours formation of a University of the Third Age in Britain. Bid for grant aid undertaken by EricMidwinter.

1981 July 20: Follow-upexploratory Cambridge meetingto discuss the proposed UK U3A . Addressed by MichelPhiIibert.

1981 October Bid to theNuffield Foundationsucceeds. A grant (£9000) is credited to the Centre for Policy on Ageing.

1981Christian and Voluntary Servicemakes a similar grant to the proposed U3A in London, credited to the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, London University.

1981 July 21 EricMidwinterbroadcasts about the U3A in Radio 4's "You and Yours'. Four hundred interested listeners write in. Letters from London and the South East are forwarded to BrianGroombrldge, as Director of London University's Extra Mural Department; the rest are handled by DianneNorton.Several retired men and women now join in as equal partnersin planning the new enterprise. Increasing agreement leads to decision that the U3A in the UK should be aself -help study circle organisation, not based in the university system as in France.

`R show that would run and run' (Eric Mid winter)

1981 August Peter Laslett drafts the U3A's foundation document:Objects, Principles and Institutional Formsfollowed by a shorter version, All our Futures. Michael Young drafts the Articles of Association through the Institute of Community Studies.

1982 March 3:U3A in Londonholds its first Steering Committee meeting, with PeterShea, London University Extra-Mural Department, SidneyJones, Dr TonyWarnes(King's College, London), and retired people (including PatKischand JeanTait) chaired by BrianGroombridge.

1982Experimental Easter School in Cambridge a success. Organisers decide to set upCambridge U3Aand run first study groups.Embryonic national committeeformed, Chairman, MichaelYoung; General Secretary, EricMidwinterPeterLaslett, philosopher- in-chief; and DianneNorton, Executive Secretary.The Nuffield Foundation's grant divided: £3200 to start the Cambridge U3A, the rest to support the formation of a national movement.

1982 September 24:U3A in London formally constitutedat preliminary public meeting. Participants include students from SidneyJones'sNorth London PolyLearning in Later Lifecourse. Members' Committee, chaired by HillSlavidannounces and launches first trial study groups.

1982 Septembernational relaunch of the U3Aby the National Committee publishedDIY manualfor setting up new U3As. Thirteen U3As, geographically quite widespread, at different stages of development, including those started in Harpenden, Stevenage, Sutton Coldfield, and Yeovil.

1983 January.First U3A in London 'Learning/Teaching' Study Groupsstart at North London Poly, in English Literature, French, History and History of Art. In April, the programme expands to include psychology, music, and politics and current affairs

1983 June 27:Formal relaunch U3A in Londonat a packed meeting, Polytechnic of Central London, Regent Street. Recruits 887 members by the end of the year.

1983National conferenceattended by thirty of forty groups in planning stage or just starting.London and 6 other U3As(Barnstaple, Nottingham, Oxford Wakefield, West Midlands and Yeovil)join the new national body.

1989 Farnborough & District U3A


1982 SidneyJonescompletesLearning and Meta-Learning with Special Reference to Education for the Elders. Awardeddoctorateby London University

1982Age is Opportunity: education and older people, EricMidwinter,Centre for Policy on Ageing, London.

1983 `FREE MANIFESTO', advocates equal access to the public education system as well as self-help study organisations, drafted by PeterLaslett, signed by JoannaBornat, FrankGlendenning, SallyGreengross, BrianGroombridge, SidneyJones, PeterLaslett, EricMidwinter, DianneNorton'WilliamTyler, and IanWalker.

1984Mutual Aid Universities, EricMidwinter(ed), Croom Helm, Beckenham

1989A Fresh Map of Life, PeterLaslett,Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

Brian Groombridge, July 2003.