Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (“NTU”) recently won an Asian debating contest. The interesting thing is that the debaters from the winning NTU team were all Indian nationals. While there is the perennial debate raging in Singapore about the necessity of foreign talent in Singapore and how they marginalize the locals, the undeniable fact is that these foreign students in Singaporean universities do, in general, raise the bar and competition for local students.
They’re Asia’s best debaters
Loh Chee Kong
WITH three teams in the semi-finals this year, there was no better chance for a Singapore university to be crowned Asia’s king of varsity debate after an eight-year hiatus.
And so it proved, with a classic David versus Goliath battle no less: The team from Nanyang Technological University — comprising relatively inexperienced debaters — stunned seven-time regional champions, the Philippines’ Ateneo de Manila University, in the 4th Asian Universities Debating Championship (AUDC) two weeks ago.
Squad captain Madhav Janakiraman, 20, who was part of the three-member team in the finals, said: “We were quite nervous. We knew we were the underdogs. But we prepared very strategically, trying to assess what the other team’s weaknesses were and how to take them on.”
In the final round, the team had to choose from three motions to debate on — and had only 30 minutes to prepare their arguments.
And they truimphed by arguing for the motion of granting prisoners who committed heinous crimes a conditional pardon in exchange for national service during times of war.
This year’s AUDC was hosted by the InternationalIslamic University, Malaysia, and saw 87 teams from 49 universities taking part.
The last time a Singapore university won a regional debating competition was in 2000, when the National University of Singapore took the title at the All-Asian Intervarsity Debating Championships.
In 2005, the Singapore teams — along with regional universities with strong debating traditions :— switched their participation to the newly set-up AUDC.
Since the inception of AUDC, which has overtaken the All-Asian championships as the flagship regional debating tournament, Ateneo de Manila University had swept the competition until it met its match this year.
In the semi-finals, the Ateneo de Manila University team squared off with the team from the Singapore Management University while the NTU debaters were pitted against their NUS counterparts.
While the winning team comprised of Indian nationals, six Singaporean students were part of the 30-strong squad, including second-year communication and information studies student Rasiah Raslyn Agatha, 32, who worked for 10 years before enrolling at NTU.
Describing the semi-final match-up with NUS :— which was held on the same day as the finals :— as “a close fight”, Ms Rasiah recalled how the whole squad tried their best to help Madhav’s team relax the day before, by playing the squad’s favourite word game and “joking around” in the hotel room.
But during the final, the rest of the squad could only watch on helplessly as the team waged a war of words and wit.
“We could only grin and bear it, hoping they made the right choice on the motion to debate on,” Ms Raisah added. As it turned out, they did.