u3a – Later life learning
Many organisations offer learning and development courses. u3a is uniquely for older people, giving you the opportunity to meet and make new friends who share the same interests or lifestyle. If you’ve always wanted to learn a particular skill, or enjoy sharing your knowledge with others, u3a could be a good option for you.
What is u3a?
u3a is a nationwide network of learning groups aimed at encouraging older people to share their knowledge, skills and interests in a friendly environment.
There are no exams and no homework, just regular lessons or study groups. It's learning for fun, not with the aim of gaining qualifications.
Who can attend u3a classes?
There are no age limits but the u3a is for people 'no longer in full time work' –retired or semi-retired. For this reason, it attracts a lot of members aged 50 and over. However, there’s no lower-age membership.
Where are u3a classes held?
u3a aims to be as accessible as possible – classes are held in various locations. Groups meet either at somebody’s home, or in a room in a local library, church or community centre.
If you live in an isolated town, are unwell or have difficulty leaving your home, you may prefer Virtual u3a. This is an online learning and discussion forum for older people around the world.
What can I learn at a u3a class?
There’s a wide range of subjects you can learn at u3a and on Virtual u3a. These include:
- literature and language
- computer and digital technology skills.
Sometimes u3a groups arrange trips to museums, concerts or theatres.
If there’s enough demand in your area for a certain subject, you can start up a group yourself.
Each group has its own volunteer leader or co-ordinator who has a particular interest or expertise in the particular subject.
For language classes, most of the group leaders tend to have specialist knowledge, or they may be native speakers of the language they’re teaching.
How much does a u3a class cost?
Each u3a class is different, so membership fees vary. The fees are often lower than those of most adult education courses because each u3a is run by volunteers.
What is it like to be part of a u3a class?
Marjorie Shield, a retired college administrator, has been leading a fortnightly French-speaking class in Wimbledon for the past three years:
'The class filled up as soon as it was advertised. We had to turn people away. I always prepare a lesson plan beforehand but I try to keep it as light-hearted and informal as possible.
'We always have a bit of a laugh. I try to adjust my expectations according to each individual. The last thing I want is for anyone to feel uncomfortable. Nobody is working for an exam, so it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at.'
Kate Watts, a retired health worker, has been attending Marjorie’s class for two years:
'I thought my retirement would be a good opportunity to brush up my French, so I joined a formal language class. But it was much too advanced for me and I felt an idiot. I love coming to Marjorie’s group because it is friendly and relaxed and we all support one another.
There's no competitiveness, you can make a fool of yourself and everybody just laughs along with you. I was terrified of coming along at first, but now it is the highlight of my week.'
Pat Lloyd, a retired local government officer, also attends the French group:
'We’re quite a diverse group, all different ages and backgrounds, but I enjoy the company and fellowship enormously. It exercises the brain and gives you a reason to get out and meet people. It’s all too easy when you retire to sit at home watching TV. I doubt if anyone here would be happy to live like that.'
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We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local Age UKs.