This blog is called Public Criminology because of my desire to bring criminology to the public. Partly this stems from my interest in the widest dispersion of knowledge beyond the ivory bunker of academe but also from my father, Brian also an academic and author of Television and the People. I teach at a conventional University but was an Open University student. He was involved in the formation of the University of the Air as it was nearly called.
Another open way of learning is the University of the Third Age and Brian was involved with the foundation of this too as he writes below. This is the full version of a shorter article in Third Age Matters a sort of educational Saga magazine. I have added some links. And offer you some reverse nepotism.
2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the University of the Third Age. Thirty years ago there were two U3As, one in Cambridge, the other in London. The U3A in London is now the only British U3A that is actually 30 years old. In all, there are now 859 U3As in the Britain, with nearly 900,000 members. (Cambridge left a few years later when it rejected a national conference decision).
I felt honoured to be the speaker at the recent London celebratory event. I was asked to tell members a brief version of how I came to be involved in setting up this pioneering organisation (brief because there were other items in that festive afternoon!). About 150 people came to the celebrations, so the atrium at their headquarters (the former Hampstead Town Hall), was packed. When it was my turn to reminisce I told four short stories about key people in the history - Mary Wane (an unfamiliar name), the late Michael Young and Eric Midwinter (familiar names but not to all the members there), and one of their own members, the late Sidney Jones. In this article I’ll say more about other people and their backgrounds.
Mary Wane, a member of a U3A in the Lake District, used to be the British Council’s rep. In France. In 1978 she invited me to give lectures about British adult education to three universities in different parts of France. They had all recently set up Universites du Troisieme Age (UTA), and they were already very popular. I was accompanied by Cynthia Wyld, administrator with the influential Beth Johnson Foundation.
In the mid-1970s, there was increasing interest in Britain in expanding educational opportunities for older people. I was the Director of Extra Mural Studies at London University and I belonged to an informal group which included people from charities such as Help the Aged and Age Concern, as well as adult education specialists from several organisations, including universities and local authorities. I reported to them what I’d seen In Nanterre (Paris X University), Grenoble and Lyon. The British adult education organisations had older people who were active students, but the French reckoned that it was worth setting up departments which specialised in providing older people with formally recognised study opportunities. My department and Keele Universiity organised summer schools with Lyon and Grenoble UTA
How then could I turn interesting and useful discussions into effective action?
There was a real limit to what I could do, however. London’s Extra-Mural Department then worked all over the London area. Moreover, not only were my staff and I busy, but there was academic disapproval for backing a rival organisation! One of my staff supporters was even formally chastised by his professional trade union.
Michael Young came to the rescue. He was already a remarkable innovator, inventing useful organisations which would then run themselves, In 1980 I told him about the U3A over sandwiches at his Bethnal Green office (now the HQ of the Young Foundation). He based his radical approach on medieval universities, which had studied for the sake of studying, without reference to degrees.
He welcomed the opportunity and started planning the U3A as we know it with the sympathetic academic Peter Laslett at Cambridge University and the socially versatile Eric Midwinter (now well known as a speaker at U3A national conferences and elsewhere). In the Autumn, Unesco, the British Council and the Government Department of Education and Science backed my Extra Mural Department to hold an Anglo-French conference on Learning, Education and Later Life at Wye College. I drafted a resulting statement about principles and policies. It was published in Adult Education by the National Institute of Adult Education (now known as the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) Professor Michel Philibert (Grenoble) prepared a French translation for the journal Gerontologie.
In July 1981, Philibert was asked to speak at an exploratory meeting at Cambridge when it was decided to start a U3A in the UK. Supporting grants were made by the Nuffield Foundation (credited to Midwinter at the Centre for Policy on Ageing) and to me at London Extra Mural by the Christian and Voluntary Service .
Later that month, they were ready. Eric Midwinter talked about the new project on the BBC’s weekly radio programme, You and Yours, inviting interested listeners to make contact. About 400 people replied - far more than expected, and seriously curious. Eric arranged for all the London names to be sent to me.
I urgently needed help. My contacts all over Greater London included Sidney Jones, on the staff of what was then the North London Polytechnic. He was in charge of teacher training, but he’d been an active participant in those informal discussions about older learners We decided to establish ourselves formally as FREE (the Forum for the Right of Elders to Education), to be co-ordinated by Dianne Norton from Age Concern and Jones hosted the first FREE meeting at his Poly. He’d started their course on Learning in Later Life. Would he become an active ally and colleague?
Sid gladly agreed. He was keen and practical. He found several places to start - the Working Men’s College, for example. We brought together several of his students and some of the people who’d contacted the BBC, so we were well supported and active from the very beginning. I chaired the group that started planning our activities, and later, at a packed meeting at the Polytechnic of Central London (then in Regent Street), I was later formally elected Chairman. By the end of the year we had 887 members.
These French and British initiatives, very different though they are, led to both countries co-operating in the International Association of U3As. Stanley Miller was recently the first British chairman. His successor is Prof. Francois Vellas, son of Pierre Vellas, who started the very first such department at Toulouse University.
Brian Groombridge, U3A Founder Member Emeritus