The World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC), one of the largest annual international student events, will be held in India for the first time (from December 29 to January 3). Harish Natarajan, arbitrator for WUDC 2014 and a former director of Debating at the Cambridge Union shares his views on this event
WUDC has become the preeminent student event in the academic world. Teams from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge and Sydney will compete. The participants are the best students from these universities who like to spend their free time reading current affairs, arguing controversial topics and improving their ability to communicate — all skills that help them a lot academically.
The India advantage
A noteworthy aspect of WUDC taking place in Chennai is that participants will be exposed to the next generation of world leaders. From the current crop of debaters, you will find at least five future Prime Ministers and Presidents. Previous competitors include Michael Gove (the U.K. Education Secretary), Liam Fox (former U.K. Home Secretary), Ted Cruz (Senator from Texas, U.S.) among others. Chennai Worlds is also an opportunity to showcase India to the rest of the world. Importantly, hosting WUDC in India would help improve the quality of debating in India. Debating against the best in the world will help Indian students improve their own debating skills, and hopefully allow them to teach those skills to others. Chennai Worlds is vital to the further development of Indian debating, as many students will be exposed to the highest level of debating.
Debating forces us to challenge our premises. It makes students ask, “why is that true.”? “How sure are you.?” “If you had to argue the other side, how would you.”? This is inspirational for many, as it really does open their world to things they otherwise never considered. Debating allows students to express their opinions; it is an avenue for exploring what you think and why you think so. Debating sharpens one’s ability to analyse issues.
Essential skills for debaters
The best debaters are immensely intelligent, with the ability to construct complex arguments with only 15 minutes of preparation. With topics that can be about almost anything (science, politics, economics, international relations, philosophy), without the ability to think rapidly, critically and deploy logical arguments, they will never be able to compete at the highest level.
However, being intelligent only gets you so far. You need to be aware of how well you communicate those arguments to an intelligent audience.
That obviously involves being a proficient public speaker. It involves framing your arguments correctly, careful use of vocabulary and structuring your thoughts in a coherent manner. A knowledge of world affairs is a great tool, but debating isn’t a general knowledge quiz. You may need facts, buts it’s often about deploying them carefully and in a persuasive way.
At the top level, you have to be at your best to win. That’s Worlds — challenging you to debate against the most intelligent people that you will ever meet. However, from my professional life, I've noticed that many people struggle to express themselves and really hate speaking in public or giving presentations. Debating really equips you with the speaking skills that are vital, but so often underemphasised in traditional academia.
Rajalakshmi Institutions will host the WUDC 2014 in Chennai from December 29 to January 3. There are 384 two-member teams attending the Chennai Worlds. They compete in debates, each with four teams. There are two teams proposing the motion (the government) and two teams opposing the motion (the opposition). While there are two teams on each side, they do not work together and all attempt to be the team that persuades the judges that the motion should be passed/should fall. Each speaker talks for seven minutes, which means that overall there are eight speeches in a debate. All 384 teams compete in nine preliminary rounds. The grand finale is to be held on January 3. The results will be announced at midnight. The venue is the Thandalam campus of Rajalakashmi Institutions. It is a closed event, open only by invitation. Link for the event: