Last week the Oxford Union played host to the Oxfordshire finals of the Debating Matters championship.

The competition for sixth-form students took place as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts, a city-wide festival which ran from the 21st June to the 7th July.

The student debating section of the program ran throughout the day, involving a number of local schools in the area. The event concluded with the main schools’ debate on whether ‘populism is a threat to democracy’ in the afternoon.

The public debate, taking place in the evening, held the title ‘From sexting to screen addicts: should we be afraid of online harms?’ Participants included Jess Butcher MBE, a technology entrepreneur, and Professor Victoria Nash, the deputy director of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Professor Nash said: “At a moment where mainstream politics is becoming increasingly polarised and emotive, it was so encouraging to see these young debaters using evidence, logic and respect to make their case. Free speech is certainly not without its limits, but we will need more, not less, open and honest debates on big societal issues if we’re going to tackle populism and intolerance.”

Debating Matters is run by BOI (Battle of Ideas), an ‘educational and citizenship charity’ founded in 2018, but it was originally run by the Academy of Ideas, of which the debate chair, Claire Fox, is a founder.

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