Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Ireland is growing older

Consistently low birth rates and higher life expectancy are transforming the demographic shape of the entire European Union (EU).1 The impact of this ageing trend in Ireland will be of major social, political, and economic significance.

The needs of older people within Irish society will therefore become increasingly important. Lifelong Learning, as a key part of adult and community education, plays a vital role in enabling older people to participate in the human, social, economic and cultural development of Irish society.2

Lifelong Learning delivers a range of positive outcomes for older adults that improve their quality of life3 and that of those around them. It is particularly important for those at greatest risk of social exclusion and isolation.

Given how other European countries are proactively tackling issues affecting their rapidly ageing populations, it is now more important than ever that the learning needs of older people in Ireland are given greater priority.

The University of the 3rd Age

Age Action works to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow older. All of the social research and scientific evidence about ageing well tells us how important it is to keep our minds active by learning new things and continuing to socialise.

This is why Age Action’s Lifelong Learning-U3A programme is so important. From listening to the experiences of U3A members, it is very clear that a person’s emotional, mental, physical, and social well-being benefits hugely from belonging to a U3A group.

But what exactly is U3A?

A University of the Third Age group is essentially a learning circle for older adults. ‘University’ here refers to the ‘university of life’ and the Third Age is the part of your life where you may have retired, and family responsibilities have changed, so that you have more time for yourself.

U3A takes a non-formal approach to Lifelong Learning, so there are no exams and no qualifications are needed to join. Members learn from one another by sharing knowledge and experiences and by engaging in shared activities, which they themselves decide on. U3A can be described as having a flexible, DIY philosophy, which is why so many people are attracted to it.

‘Third agers’ design their own learning programme to suit their interests. U3A activities have included creative writing, stress management, inviting experts and all kinds of speakers to give talks, touring various museums and visiting places of interest. Some groups also go on trips abroad together.

Lifelong friends are also made and social ties within a community are strengthened. There are currently seventeen groups across the country – in Monaghan, Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Wicklow, Roscommon, Galway, Cavan, and Leitrim.

Age Action supports the existing groups and encourages older people to set up new ones.

A national U3A newsletter is published quarterly which helps the development of the network. This plays a vital role in keeping U3A members up-to-date with the latest news and information relating to active ageing, lifelong learning and the ongoing activities within the U3A community.

What do members say about U3A?

“I have found it a great way of meeting people of like mind and interests”.

“Don’t be afraid to start small. We were just a small group of people, most of whom had not previously met but who were interested in expanding their horizons. Now we have regular speakers, take field trips and go on overnight trips together.”

“After working for close on 50 years I needed to know what was going on in the community – it is a completely different world and at times very frustrating, challenging – especially during the last seven year period of austerity and pension income cuts; increased taxation; cuts in health and other services etc. Coming to our U3A and Age Action meetings has helped me to survive“.

“U3A helped me to explore new ideas and horizons, make new friends, experience the energy and enthusiasm for life of older people”. 

“U3A releases a whole new range of areas of interests that I never knew existed”.

“I schedule this once a month meeting; summer visits and theatre visits into my diary – I refer to this as ‘ME TIME’”.

“Our activities and attitudes prove that we are more than our pathology or chronological age”.

“Communication is better than medication”.

If you think people you know would benefit from starting up their own local group or joining an existing one please contact him at Age Action on 01-4756989 or via email at u3a@ageaction.ieand visit

Sam O’Brien–Olinger is the Development Officer responsible for the support and expansion of the U3A programme with Age Action Ireland. Age Action is a charity which promotes positive ageing and better policies and services for older people. Working with, and on behalf of, older people they aim to make Ireland a better place in which to grow older.