The Third Age University, a unique project in Romania, for an active senescence. Creator Violeta Pușcașu: “It was the revelation of life”

Starting from the demographic reality of Romania, a teacher from Galați founded the first university that is based on the needs of Romanians of the third age.

Violeta Pușcașu PHOTO personal archive

Violeta Pușcașu (60 years old), professor of Demography and territorial development strategies at the Faculty of Law and Administrative Sciences in Galati, is the one who put into practice the concept of the University of the Third Age (U3A) at the “Dănărea de Jos” University, a unique project at national level.

Lifelong learning, social inclusion, intergenerational dialogue, the valorization and exploitation of human potential are the main objectives that formed the basis of the pioneering initiative launched by Violeta Pușcașu at the University of Galaţi.

Ideas have no boundaries

She entered education 37 years ago and went through all the professional levels that a teacher can go through: educator, teacher, geography teacher at the gymnasium, then at the high school, university assistant, lecturer, lecturer and finally university professor. His pupils and students ranged in age from 3 years old to over 70 years old.

The teacher told “Weekend Adevărul” how she came up with the idea to create the University of the Third Age in Galați: “It is related to Demography, which I started teaching in 1996. While teaching my students, I realized that the number of elderly people in Romania was constantly increasing. I asked myself then, what do Westerners do who have the same problem as us?'

In 2015 he went to Liège (Belgium) through the Erasmus program, and a colleague told him he had classes at the University of the Third Age. It piqued his curiosity and there he discovered a structure with 3,700 senior students, people between 55 and 95 years old.

For me it was the revelation of life. I didn't understand the concept very well and for a year I read everything I could read on the Internet about this phenomenon called the University of the Third Age”, says the teacher.

In 2016, the Third Age University was established in Galati PHOTO Violeta Pușcașu

In 2016, the Third Age University was established in Galati PHOTO Violeta Pușcașu

The concept is quite old in Europe and started in the 70s in France. It caught on very well in many universities in the Hexagon and later expanded to Belgium. Seniors know from the start that after graduation they will not get a diploma or a qualification valid on the job market.

“The aim then was to bring third-year-olds back to school to observe in a study what the effect is at a neural, behavioral level. The French already have a 40-year tradition in this field. And this phenomenon exploded in the world, but it adapted to local specificities”, explains Violeta Pușcașu.

The French model seemed the most suitable for Romania at the time, so in the fall of 2016, the Third Age University took shape in Galați.

“It was the construction site of my life”

The university professor initially started with a group of 167 senior students, for whom he devised a program of 10 modules: law, economics, history, art, nutrition, engineering, tourism, philosophy, medicine, culture and civilization.

Other disciplines have been introduced for 2023 and 2024, such as physiotherapy, orthopedics, pharmacy, finance, agriculture, religion, environment, traffic education and human rights. Seniors could choose three modules per semester, depending on their area of ​​interest.

“It was the construction site of my life. I was a teacher, in charge of public relations, secretary, operator and the shoulder on which those who enrolled in these courses cried. They called me at the most unexpected hours to ask me various things”, the teacher humorously tells about the beginning of the University.

Violeta Pușcașu had a revelation in those years. Education is also needed at the age of three, and this can be done, but not in the classic, already established formula.

“It is about an education addressed to a segment of the population that has different expectations, but also a different life experience. It is an education that changes a lot in their behavior towards themselves, not only towards those around them”, says the initiator of the project.

Later, under her guidance, a similar university was opened in Cluj-Napoca, and the concept caught on so well that now there are three universities for the third age in the city.

She is happy because the seniors get exactly what suits them from this form of education, and in the first three years while she was in charge of the University of the Third Age in Galați, she can boast that she did more than the French in a few decades .

The moment when seniors graduated from the Third Age University PHOTO Violeta Pușcașu

The moment when seniors graduated from the Third Age University PHOTO Violeta Pușcașu

For example, in Law he introduced in the mode the information that particularly interested the elderly: how they can make their will, what rights citizens have and those related to consumer protection.

Medicine, nutrition and tourism modules were also in high demand. The elderly wanted to know various useful things from dentistry, urology, geriatrics and even psychiatry.

“All the courses are interactive with a teaching part and question sessions for seniors to clarify any doubts they have on a particular subject,” Violeta Pușcașu describes the curriculum that was successful.

The perfect social formula

Another great advantage of the concept of senior studies is the interaction between seniors of different ages, from different backgrounds and with different levels of education.

“A spirit of collegiality was created between them, and then they went further and established different social groups. Some liked to go hiking, and once they walked to the Putna Monastery, others formed a reading club, while others liked to cook,” the teacher describes the atmosphere and the connections that have been created around the University.

In addition to the regular courses, once a month a well-known person came to Galati to give lectures, during the U3A conferences, to inspire the senior students. They came, for example, Alexandru Mironov, Pavel Chirilă, Uca Marinescu – the explorer who went to the North Pole and many others.

A lot of passion, work and sleepless nights are behind the success that the Third Age University in Galati is now enjoying.

Violeta Pușcașu has many files with notes, schemes and sketches, and the reward came even from the seniors: “They told me many times that I changed their lives not only for them, but also for their families, because when the elderly person is well, he no longer sits sad at the window, everything changes.”

Another detail not to be neglected is that the vast majority of senior students have higher education, and returning to school was something they had been waiting for a long time.

“Most of our social policies are aimed at those with low pensions, but statistically they are less than one million in Romania. The majority of pensioners, over three million people, have not only basic needs, but also other needs: social, relational, spiritual, cultural. For them there is nothing in the country. Everyone copes as best they can”, remarked the teacher sadly.

Senior School and the 10 Life Lessons

Violeta Pușcașu also opened an online School for Seniors in 2021, where she teaches the elderly from all over the country how to prepare for old age.

“My experience at U3A has shown me that part of the failure to achieve a comfortable and secure third age is because we don't anticipate and prepare for it before retirement,”
explained the teacher.

It teaches the elderly 10 life lessons to guide them to be well in their old age, starting from life philosophy to relating to loved ones, affective addictions, about health, travel and other hobbies, but also practical ways to to make life easier with age.

Violeta Pușcașu now teaches at the School for Seniors PHOTO personal archive

Violeta Pușcașu now teaches at the School for Seniors PHOTO personal archive

For example, it is necessary to ask whether the home they live in will be what they need when they retire. If they live in a block of flats, on the 4th floor, it will become more and more difficult for them to go up and down hundreds of steps every day, and this will affect their health at some point.

Therefore, even if they will experience some discomfort, the solution is to move to a ground floor apartment or even a house if they can afford it.

Violeta Pușcașu also talks to them about the hundreds or thousands of things they have in the house and no longer use and which they can give to people in need.

Exchange of experience depending on the job

In 2023, he physically opened the School for Seniors in Galati, where he meets once a week with the elderly. It is different from U3A, on the Anglo-Saxon model, where students come with their own calendar of activities and bring their own experience and professional expertise to the school.

For example, a senior specializing in landscape architecture will share information in this field with others without having a university qualification.

“The unexpected happens anyway, but if you're completely unprepared, you'll only add to the ranks of those waiting to be given and dealt with. Each of us is obliged to concern ourselves with and identify our own resources, but also to think life scenarios for the period when he reaches the age of three“, is the advice of Violeta Pușcașu.