The History of Age Friendly Universities

The Age-Friendly Movement

The Age-Friendly movement has been steadily growing since its 2006 start with the World Health Organization’s Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities. The effort began as a way to “foster healthy and active ageing [and] enable older people to: age safely in a place that is right for them; be free from poverty; continue to develop personally; and to contribute to their communities while retaining autonomy, health and dignity. Because older people know best what they need, they are at the centre of any effort to create a more age-friendly world” (WHO, Age-Friendly World website). In the intervening years, age-friendly initiatives have gotten underway around the world. In the U.S., AARP took on the age-friendly leadership role offering guidance, support, and resources for local and state age-friendly initiatives. As a result, the network of age-friendly states and communities has grown to over 771 as of July 2023, and Maine is home to more than 80 of them! 

Read more about age-friendly states and communities in the U.S. here.

The Age-Friendly University Movement

As academic researchers monitored and studied the age-friendly movement, they bore witness to its impact on older people and on communities and its transformative potential. In 2015, three universities – Dublin City University (DCU) in Ireland, Strathclyde University (SU) in Glasgow, and Arizona State University (ASU) in the United States – collaborated to form a global Age-Friendly University (AFU) Network (Montayre, et al., 2022). The AFU concept was one avenue to address lifelong learning desires and preferences of older people and create an authentic intergenerational experience for people of all ages. 

The AFU principles (see right) reflect the work of an international, interdisciplinary team convened by Professor Brían MacCraith, then President, Dublin City University (DCU) to identify the distinctive contributions institutions of higher education can make in responding to the interests and needs of an aging population. Launched by the Irish Prime Minister, (An Taoiseach) Enda Kenny in 2012, the 10 AFU principles have been adopted by institutions around the world. Very recently, the Age Friendly University Global Network (AFU GN) announced that Arizona State University will be the new Global Secretariat in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, Scotland.

The University of Maine is an Age-Friendly University

In 2020, the University of Maine launched an AFT effort which included surveying faculty and professional staff across the university to better understand how older Mainers were engaging – or could engage – with university resources and opportunities. Maine submitted its AFU application and achieved full, endorsed membership in the AFU Global Network in 2022. This achievement demonstrates the university’s commitment to being welcoming and accessible to older adults in its programming, events, opportunities, and resources. UMaine is the first public university in Maine to achieve this status and only the second in the state. The UMaine AFU Resources website functions as the doorway into the University for older Mainers and others who wish to take advantage of all that the university has to offer for learning, exploration, volunteering, and sharing among people of all ages.

Click here to review an article from UMaine Today (Mundy, R, 2021) on the UMaine Center on Aging’s efforts to support rural aging.

For more reading on Age-Friendly Universities:

The 10 Principles of Age-Friendly Universities

  1. To encourage the participation of older adults in all the core activities of the university, including educational and research programs.
  2. To promote personal and career development in the second half of life and to support those who wish to pursue second careers.
  3. To recognize the range of educational needs of older adults (from those who were early school-leavers through to those who wish to pursue Master’s or PhD qualifications).
  4. To promote intergenerational learning to facilitate the reciprocal sharing of expertise between learners of all ages.
  5. To widen access to online educational opportunities for older adults to ensure a diversity of routes to participation.
  6. To ensure that the university’s research agenda is informed by the needs of an aging society and to promote public discourse on how higher education can better respond to the varied interests and needs of older adults.
  7. To increase the understanding of students of the longevity dividend and the increasing complexity and richness that aging brings to our society.
  8. To enhance access for older adults to the university’s range of health and wellness programs and its arts and cultural activities.
  9. To engage actively with the university’s own retired community.
  10. To ensure regular dialogue with organizations representing the interests of the aging population.