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IOE Student Blog


A blog on life at IOE and education affairs written for students by students.


Debating Amongst the Best: My Journey at the 2020 World Universities Debating Championship in Bangkok

By IOE Blog Editor, on 4 June 2020

Assumption University Campus

The Assumption University campus was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Pictured is the lake and pagoda surrounded by the lush greenery of campus, glistening under the afternoon sun.

By Basak Su Aray.

Basak is a second year Social Sciences BSc student at the IOE and a committee member of UCL Debating Society.

It was the first weekend of November, and under the fluorescent lights sat ten or so of us, some scribbling last-minute notes while others studied the panel of adjudicators who were about to assess our performance. The trial for the 2020 World Universities Debating Championship was short yet intense, consisting of a single round of debating. By the end of the afternoon the judges had made their picks. Hearing my name called out amongst three others to represent UCL at the tournament was a moment of shock and joy I will never forget.

The World Universities Debating Championship is the world’s biggest debating competition, held yearly under the British Parliamentary debate format. The tournament, informally known as “Worlds,” takes place in a different host university each year and serves as a platform for university debaters from around the world to showcase debating ability, network and exchange ideas, and make a name for themselves on the international debating circuit. Debaters and judges are selected to attend by their institutions through a variety of processes. Many, like the UCL contingent, had competed in trials organised by their debating teams.

I joined the UCL Debating Society in the fall of 2019, merely a month before the trials for the prestigious competition. I had never debated before, and I sometimes felt intimidated amidst a group of articulate speakers, all of whom had years of experience in competitive debating prior to university. These fears were compounded in the trials, but I decided to try out anyway. Being chosen to be part of the two teams to represent UCL on the world stage despite doubting my abilities and potential serves as a reminder for anyone to believe in themselves and keep striving for their goals despite how impossible they might seem.

Worlds 2020 took place in Bangkok, Thailand, from December 28th to January 3rd. When I first arrived at Assumption University, the official host of the competition, I was mesmerised by the sheer beauty and grandeur of the campus. “This is crazy!” I remember whispering to another UCL debater after we had left the marbled interior of the Cathedral of Learning, designated the third largest university building in the world at 159 meters.

Worlds 2020 constituted eight intense days of competitive debating atop talks, workshops, and socials. Every day leading up to the finals consisted of three rounds of debating, an exhausting schedule for both speakers as well as judges. The deliberation process was carried out by a chief adjudicator and two or three panel judges, dubbed “wings,” who assist in deciding on the final call. At a competition like Worlds, the judgement of the adjudicators carry immense value. Worlds judges are some of the most highly experienced, skilled debaters in the world, and their wealth of knowledge encompasses a diverse range of perspectives and lived experiences.

Throughout the competition, there were a total of nineteen rounds, each with a different motion ranging from a variety of social, economic, and political topics. Some examples of the motions include:

  • This House supports the rapid global elimination of both tariff and non-tariff barriers to free trade
  • This House believes that the Mexican government should adopt measures that enable one cartel to monopolise the drug market
  • This House would abolish the private ownership of (housing) property in major metropolitan areas

Under the British Parliamentary debating format, teams have fifteen minutes to come up with strategies to construct impactful and persuasive arguments for the motion at hand. The central aim of debating is to be able to present a sound argument for different viewpoints, no matter what your opinion or stances on a given topic may be.

Worlds 2020 was incredibly diverse, with a total of 434 teams and 1,117 students representing 50 countries.  I met some of the most inspiring and knowledgeable debaters from all across the globe. While it was intimidating to debate against some of the most experienced speakers in the world, being surrounded by the brightest debating minds continuously challenged and inspired me to improve my debating skills and become a better speaker.

Participating in Worlds was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that immensely improved my debating skills, broadened my world view, and allowed me to compete against some of the most talented debaters in the world. I hope that my experience at Worlds serves to inspire students to participate in competitive debating at UCL, regardless of prior experience. I am tremendously grateful to the Department of Social Science at IOE for providing financial support for flight costs, and to UCL Debating Society for selecting me to participate in the international competition.

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