World Universities Debating Championship

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World Universities Debating Championship
FormatBritish Parliamentary Style
Number of Teams~250-400
Record participation~400 teams (2012), Possibly 440 teams in the Thailand WUDC 2020
Current championsUniversity of Oxford
Most championshipsUniversity of Sydney (8)

The World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) is the world's largest debating tournament and one of the largest annual international student events in the world.[1] WUDC is parliamentary debating tournament held in British Parliamentary Debate format (involving four teams of two people in each debate). Historically, the format of WUDC was determined by the host country which allowed for the American Parliamentary Debate format (two teams of two people).[2] Each year, the event is hosted by a university selected by the World Universities Debating Council. The tournament is colloquially referred to as "Worlds" and the winners of the open competition acknowledged as the "world champions". The current world champions, Jason Xiao and Lee Chin Wee, are from the University of Oxford.[3] The university with the most world championships is the University of Sydney with 8 victories. The 2020 edition which was the 40th edition was hosted in Assumption University.


Predecessor Tournaments[edit]

The Trans-Atlantic University Speech Association held tournaments in London (1976 and 1978) and at McGill University, Montreal, in 1977. Chicago was to hold a tournament in 1979 but this was postponed and then abandoned. A "World Debating Festival", sponsored by Honeywell was held in Sydney in 1978. The TAUSA event attracted mostly Northern Hemisphere tournaments, the Honeywell was largely Southern Hemisphere.[4]


The championship is usually held in the days following the 25th of December, since many of the institutions attending from the Northern Hemisphere where the championship originated take vacations at this time. Although many countries that do not celebrate Christmas have become participants at the competition, the timing has remained the same. In most recent years, the nine preliminary rounds of the tournament have been held over three days from 29–31 December, with the elimination rounds being held on 2 January and the Grand Final on 3 January.[5]

In recent years, the championship has varied from about 150 to 400 teams, depending on the capacity of the host institution. With judges and organisers, this involves 500 to 1,000 participants in all.[5]

The competition involves nine preliminary rounds, which become "power-paired" as the tournament progresses, matching the strongest-performing teams against each other. Two teams form the "government" ("proposition" in the UK and North America) and two the "opposition" in each debate room. The process of scoring and pairing these teams is known as "tabbing". The scoring of teams is done by judges, most of whom are students or former students from the competing institutions, who return "ballots" with their scores to the adjudication team, led by a Chief Adjudicator who is assisted by one or more deputies. The deputies are not members of the host institution.

The nine preliminary rounds are followed by a "break" at which the teams proceeding to elimination rounds are announced. This is traditionally done on New Year's Eve, although this is subject to the timing of the tournament. In the current tournament format, the top 16 teams from the preliminary rounds proceed to the octofinal round. The teams ranked 17-48 also break into a partial double octofinal round, and the winning teams from this round join the teams ranked 1-16 in the octo-finals. While preliminary rounds are usually judged by three to five judges, the break rounds are judged by panels of five, semifinal judged by panels of seven and the finals by panels of nine.

Separate breaks are announced for the English-as-a-second language (ESL) and English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) team competitions, for the individual public speaking competition, and the "World Masters" tournament which is participated in by judges (most of whom are no longer students) representing the countries where they studied or of which they are citizens. In addition, a comedy competition is also open to all participants in Worlds.[6]


The World Universities Debating Council consists of representatives of every country that competes at the World Universities Debating Championship. Each country selects one council delegate (the national debating association president, or selected from the participants at Worlds). The Council is responsible for setting the rules and awarding the right to host the championships.

A Worlds Committee is elected to discuss issues during the year as Council only meets at the championships itself. This Committee consists of a mix of elected officers and regional representatives from Africa, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, Continental Europe and the Middle East, and the British Isles (referred to in debating as Islands of the North Atlantic thought more politically acceptable than British Isles).

The Council formerly operated not unlike the United Nations Security Council, with seven nations holding "charter member status" – the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. A two-thirds majority of these countries was required for changes to the championship's constitution, irrespective of how the general vote was tallied. However, as the number of non-charter nations attending grew, many fielding far more teams than some of the upper tier, and the championship began being hosted outside the Charter nations, pressure grew for the distinction to be eliminated.

The modern championship grants voting strength of between one and four votes per country, based on numbers of institutions attending recent championships. To allow for fluctuations in participation due to the financial difference in attending championships nearer or further in succeeding years, nations lose or gain their voting strength gradually.

Notable controversies[edit]

Thailand WUDC 2020[edit]

There was concern over the public debate of Hong Kong in the Open Grand Final motion. This led to walk-outs during the debate. After the live-stream, all recordings of the debate were deleted and the motion was erased from the tabulation software. Many participants had names removed from the public record retroactively once the competition was over. The organising committee claims this was done to respect participants' privacy and denies pressure from any national body or representative.[3]

Cape Town WUDC 2019[edit]

Accusations of racism were made against members of the organising committee over treatment of participants. On the last day of the competition and just before the Open Grand Final was to begin, an organised protest took place and disrupted the event. Rather than delay the Open Grand Final, speakers and judges were relocated to an undisclosed room and the debate took place in private. This action was the subject of further controversy due to perceived undermining of an anti-racist cause.[7]

Chennai WUDC 2014[edit]

This tournament is notable for several controversies. This included "tracking registration payments, to issues with getting participants visas, allocating hotel rooms, picking participants safely up from the airport, toilet paper disappearing, insufficient food provision, and dangerous dirt bike socials".[8] Discontent among judges who had been offered payment in return for participation resulted in strike threats, jeopardizing the 7th round of the tournament. There were also complaints from Pakistani participants of detention by Indian immigration authorities.[9]

List of Tournaments[edit]

Year Host City Hosting Institution Winning Institution Best Speaker Topic of Open Grand Final
2021 South Korea Goyang, South Korea Debate Korea TBD TBD TBD
2020 Thailand Bangkok, Thailand Assumption University University of Oxford This House, as China, would grant universal suffrage to Hong Kong.
2019 South Africa Cape Town, South Africa University of Cape Town University of Sydney James Stratton, University of Sydney This House believes that the present condition of humanity is preferable to its condition in 100 years time.
2018 Mexico Mexico City, México Asociación Mexicana de Debate Harvard University Dan Lahav, Tel Aviv University This House would rather save the life of a single child, over extending the life of 5 adults by 10 years.
2017 Netherlands The Hague, Netherlands Debating Societies of the Netherlands University of Sydney Raffy Marshall, University of Oxford This House would apply universal jurisdiction to crimes against the environment.
2016 Greece Thessaloniki, Greece Debating Society of Greece Harvard University Michael Dunn Goekjian, Faculty of Business Economics and Entrepreneurship, Belgrade This House believes that the world's poor would be justified in pursuing complete Marxist revolution.
2015 Malaysia Shah Alam, Malaysia Universiti Teknologi MARA University of Sydney Ashish Kumar, University of Cambridge This House believes that humanitarian organisations should, and should be allowed to, give funding, resources or services to illegal armed groups when this is made a condition for access to vulnerable civilians.
2014 India Chennai Worlds 2014, Chennai, India Rajalakshmi Engineering College Harvard University Eleanor Jones, University of Sydney This House believe that India should pursue aggressive economic policies.
2013 Germany Berlin, Germany Berlin Debating Union Monash University Chris Bissett, Monash University and Pam Cohn, University of London This House would not allow religious communities to expel members on the basis of views or actions that contradict doctrinal teachings.
2012 Philippines Manila, Philippines De La Salle Monash University Ben Woolgar, University of Oxford This House supports nationalism.
2011 Botswana Gaborone, Botswana University of Botswana Monash University Victor Finkel, Monash University This House would invade Zimbabwe.
2010 Turkey Istanbul, Turkey Koç University University of Sydney Shengwu Li, University of Oxford This House believes that the media should show the full horror of war.
2009 Republic of Ireland Cork, Ireland University College Cork University of Oxford Naomi Oreb, University of Sydney This House would ban abortion.
2008 Thailand Bangkok, Thailand Assumption University University of Oxford Sam Block, University of Cambridge THB that people who give HIV to others must pay drug support.
2007 Canada Vancouver, Canada University of British Columbia University of Sydney Jess Prince, University of Oxford This House believes that economic growth is the solution to climate change.
2006 Republic of Ireland Dublin, Ireland University College Dublin Hart House Rory Gillis & Beth O'Connor, Yale University This House would abolish all laws prohibiting cruelty to animals.
2005 Malaysia Cyberjaya, Malaysia Multimedia University University of Ottawa Kylie Lane, Monash University This House supports corporal punishment in schools.
2004 Singapore Singapore Nanyang Technological University Middle Temple Alex Croft, University of Sydney This House would ban the abortion of fetuses on the grounds of their permanent disability.
2003 South Africa South Africa Stellenbosch University University of Cambridge Wu Meng Tan, University of Cambridge This House believes that the world has learned nothing from 9/11.
2002 Canada Toronto, Canada Hart House New York University School of Law Ewan Smith, University of Oxford This House would bail out failing industries.
2001 Scotland Scotland Glasgow University Union University of Sydney Paul Hunyor, University of Sydney This House would elect its judges.
2000 Australia Sydney, Australia University of Sydney Monash University Andy Kidd, University of Oxford This House believes Marx would have approved of the internet.
1999 Philippines Manila, Philippines Ateneo de Manila University Monash University Andy Kidd, University of Oxford This House believes Netanyahu is the biggest obstacle to peace in Israel.
1998 Greece Athens, Greece Deree College Gray's Inn Neil Sheldon, Gray's Inn This House believes that humanitarianism is a first world affectation.
1997 South Africa Stellenbosch, South Africa Stellenbosch University Glasgow University Union Andy George, Gray's Inn This House would legalize all drugs.
1996 Republic of Ireland Cork, Ireland University College Cork Macquarie University Adam Spencer, University of Sydney This House believes that strong dictatorship is better than weak democracy.
1995 United States Princeton, United States of America Princeton University University of New South Wales Chitra Jenardhanan, Nanyang Technological University
1994 Australia Melbourne, Australia Melbourne Glasgow University Union Ben Richards, Monash University This House believes that Machiavelli is the way to go.
1993 England Oxford, England Oxford Union Society Harvard University Daniel Mulino, Australian National University
1992 Republic of Ireland Dublin, Ireland Trinity College Dublin Glasgow University Union James Hooke, University of New South Wales & Richard Douglas, Australian National University Nationalism is a hangover from history.
1991 Canada Toronto, Canada Hart House, University of Toronto McGill University Steve Bibas, University of Oxford
1990 Scotland Glasgow, Scotland Glasgow University Union Yale University
1989 United States Princeton, United States of America Princeton University University of Sydney John Gastil, Swarthmore College
1988 Australia Sydney, Australia University of Sydney University of Oxford Francis Greenslade University of Adelaide
1987 Republic of Ireland Dublin, Ireland University College Dublin Glasgow University Union Michael Hall, University of Oxford
1986 United States New York City, United States of America Fordham University University College Cork Bruce Meagher, University of Sydney
1985 Canada Montreal, Canada McGill University The Honorable Society of King's Inns Ashley Black, University of Sydney
1984 Scotland Edinburgh, Scotland University of Edinburgh University of Sydney David Celermajer, University of Sydney
1983 United States Princeton, United States of America Princeton University Glasgow University Union John Geisnell
1982 Canada Toronto, Canada Hart House, University of Toronto University of Auckland Stuart Bugg, University of Auckland
1981 Scotland Glasgow, Scotland Glasgow University Union Hart House Andrew Taylor, Hart House This House regrets living in the nuclear age.

List of notable alumni[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ - WUDC history Archived April 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "A Guide to Parliamentary Debate: the Rules of Parliamentary Debate". American Parliamentary Debate Association. Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.
  3. ^ a b News, Taiwan. "World Universities Debating Championship dele..." Taiwan News. Retrieved 2020-01-19.
  4. ^ "Narrative History". World Universities Debating Championships. Archived from the original on November 3, 2016. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "About the World Universities Debating Championship". World Universities Debating Championship. Archived from the original on September 26, 2018. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about The World Universities Debating Championship 2020". The 40th World Universities Debating Championship. 2019. Archived from the original on August 22, 2019. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.
  7. ^ "'Racism' mars world university debate championships at UCT". Independent Online. Jan 9, 2019. Archived from the original on June 5, 2019. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.
  8. ^ "How (not) to Run Worlds: Advice from two people who needed it" (PDF). Monash Debating Review. 12. 2014.
  9. ^ "Scandal and strike threats at World University Debating Competition". Trinity News. Jan 1, 2014. Retrieved Apr 1, 2020.

External links[edit]