Historical Background of the U3A activities in Finland

How did U3A start in Finland?

The first University of the Third Age (U3A) in Finland was founded in Jyväskylä in 1985 as a co-operative project between the Summer University of Jyväskylä and the Departments of Health Sciences and Psychology of the University of Jyväskylä. Six months later a similar programme was launched at the University of Helsinki, and nowadays the Third Age University programmes are running at many nine universities in Finland. Third Age University services are coordinated and developed by the National Advisory Board. 

The U3As of Finland are all connected with the universities. In some cases, the programmes are arranged jointly with the local Summer Universities or with local Open Universities. Over 60 different organizations (as Adult education centers, other Summer Universities etc.) provide their audience with a live broadcast from Jyväskylä U3A's lectures on different topics every Wednesday afternoon.

The U3A programmes have been extremely popular in Finland from the very beginning. The total number of participants in 2004 was 15 879 elderly people, of which 75 - 80 % were women. The average age of the participants is over 65 years, with their background education varying from primary level to tertiary. The vocational profile is also very hetero­geneous: there are retired teachers and factory workers as well as health professionals, office staff, and many others. One of the typical reasons for participating in the programmes is, for instance, that these elderly people did not have a chance to study earlier in their lives, due to the lack of financial resources, war, or some other external constraint, and now they wish to seize the opportunity.