Friday 7th October 2016, marked the opening of the Academic year 2016/2017 of the University of the Third Age, which was very well attended. Guests included the Hon. Justyne Caruana the Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing and Dr Carmen Sammut Pro-Rector, University of Malta.
In the past, many governments and voluntary agencies have given attention to the protection and care of the older members of society. Little emphasis was given to the participation and contribution of older people in the development process of the country itself. The result was that the elderly were becoming more dependent.
The International Plan of Action on Ageing, Madrid 2002, emphasized that while every society has a duty to help the elderly, it must also see the benefit from various resources which they can offer.
Education is a crucial basis for an active and satisfying life. In the Millennium Summit it was decided to ensure access to lifelong learning. One of the most effective methods of participation of older people in the development process, is the establishment of a university of the third age (U3A). (Article 47 of the Regional Implementation Strategy of the UNECE -The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
The first U3A was founded in 1972 at the University of Social Sciences in Toulouse in France, on the initiative of Professor Pierre Vellas. Its aim was to enrich the quality of life of older people through adult education and research in the context of a university with the participation of intellectual and administrative people. The project was successful. A number of other universities in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Italy and Canada have done the same. The first universities of the third age collaborated to build cooperation that led to the creation of the International Association of Universities of the Third Age, in 1975.
On 23 January 1993, the Institute of Gerontology, as it was then known, founded the University of the Third Age in Malta. Lecturers from the University of Malta and Government entities, experts in these fields, lecture in the programme which offers a wide range of subjects including History, Politics, Music, Arts, Economics, Religion, Sociology and Culture.
The U3A Malta is a combination of the French and English models. It has succeeded in moving forward the social virtue of education, as well as the educational aspect through cultural and social activities. The U3A programmes are designed not only to pass on information, but also to act as an intellectual challenge and promote awareness.
The main centre of the U3A is at the Catholic Institute in Floriana. It has 3 other branches, two in Malta and one in Gozo. The two branches in Malta are at the Salesian School of St. Patrick in Sliema and at the Cottonera Resource Centre, Vittoriosa.
The branch in Gozo is at the Day Centre of Ghajnsielem. Discussions are ongoing for the opening of a branch in Mosta.
The large attendance at lectures gives a clear indication of the quality of programmes offered as well as the willingness of members to participate.
The plan is for U3A members to get involved in each area. Thus the social aspect is as important as the academic aspect. The members of the U3A have their own Association. They prepare a social programme which involves two outings per month. A quarterly journal is issued, edited and organized by the members themselves. The U3A encourages groups of special interest to continue with their hobbies. Eighteen years ago, the members formed a choir. This was a huge success. On different occasions, the choir gave a number of concerts in various locations. Another special interest group is that for physical education and line dancing.
The University of the Third Age is open to anyone over sixty years. There is no need for any academic qualification or a particular level of education. It only requires the desire to meet with others and do the best one can in life. These universities of the third age play an important role in changing stereotypes that are detrimental to the elderly and also to society itself.
Ageing is neither a problem nor does it bring any crisis. Only people who look at the elderly as mere recipients view it in this manner. It is hoped that during the upcoming twenty-third anniversary the U3A in Malta it will continue to live up to its commitment to enhance human dignity and ensure that there is equal distribution of resources in society, duties and rights between different age groups. Successful ageing involves greater importance being given to the dignity of senior citizens.