Plenty of Room for Debate: Oxford, Home of the World’s Greatest Arguments


Date of Publication: 30 January 2018

You only need two things to start you off on the road to becoming an excellent debater: an opinion, and the will to defend it. For centuries, Oxford has been the site of some of the most exciting and important debates the world has ever seen, and remains a hotspot for people to try out their arguments. We at Oxford Summer Courses think that being able to debate and present your arguments well is an important skill for academic study in any subject, so we are excited to bring a taste of Oxford debating to India.

Students debate at the Oxford Union

The Oxford Union is the most prestigious debating society in the world. Founded in 1823, it is also Oxford’s oldest student society, and has a long history of hosting two things: famous speakers from all walks of life, and formal debates on a huge variety of subjects. The Oxford Union elected its first Indian president, D.F. Karaka, in 1933, and a number of distinguished Indian speakers have visited the Union to address its members. In the last couple of years, this has included:

  • Politician and diplomat, Shashi Tharoor
  • CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi
  • Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif
  • Indian-American Special Representative to the US State Department, Farah Pandith

When Oxford Summer Courses visited India in 2016, our students tried their hand at Oxford Union-style debating. This isn’t just a case of shouting out your argument: this kind of debate needs you to be disciplined, clear, and ready to listen to other points of view. So, how does it work? The rules are a bit different from any schools debating you might have done before. A typical Oxford Union debate would look a bit like this:

  1. Opening presentations: the spotlight is turned on your argument – no interruptions!
  2. The judges then ask each team questions which get to the heart of the issue being debated.
  3. The audience ask the teams their questions, followed by the teams asking questions of each other. You will also be able to respond to your questions, but you don’t have to answer all of them.
  4. Final remarks: you can either sum up your argument in a one minute speech, or make a closing point related to it.
  5. The judges offer constructive feedback on each team’s arguments and presentation skills.
  6. The audience vote (for fun!) and the judges present their final decision.

As for what is debated, there are endless possibilities! Last year, our students in India enjoyed debating:

  • Should childhood vaccinations be compulsory?
  • Are Gender quotas in the workplace good for equality?
  • Is space exploration a waste of time and money?
  • Should Britain pay reparations for its role in the slave trade?

We at Oxford Summer Courses believe the most important thing to remember about debating is that issues are never as simple as they seem, and you can’t expect to agree with your peers on every point. What can be agreed, however, is that trying your hand at some Oxford Union-style debating is a great way to hone your skills in building and presenting a winning argument. We’ll look forward to seeing you speaking at the Oxford Union in the future!

Practice your debating skills on our International Relations and Politics , Politics , or Law courses!

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