What is the Union?

From its small beginnings as a debating society founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union currently has over 70,000 life members worldwide. Now the oldest debating society in the world, and the largest student society in Cambridge, the Union remains a unique forum for the free exchange of ideas and the art of public debate.

In the past the Society has hosted such great figures as Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and the current Dalai Lama, and it continues to provide Cambridge students with the opportunity to meet and question the people that shape our world, and has grown into the central forum for student discussion in Cambridge.

Our public debates and guest speakers continue to generate passionate student engagement, and our university and school debating competitions remain the largest and most prestigious in the country.

The Union has a host of famous former students, debaters and officers. From John Maynard Keynes and Ken Clarke MP to Arianna Huffington and Clare Balding, some of the great figures of our time had a crucial part of their Cambridge experience at the Union, and the society continues to produce many exceptionally successful professionals and politicians.

An Educational Charity

Education is at the heart of the Union’s charitable activities. The Cambridge Schools’ Debating Competition, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021, is the largest in the world with over 600 teams competing. Children between 15 and 18 across the country are coached by Cambridge students in public speaking, and many cite it as the main reason they gained enough confidence to apply to university. The Union also runs the International Competition for Young Debaters’, for those between 13 and 15, to encourage younger students to try debating.

The Union provides free debating and Cambridge access workshops to local schools, and we also provide weekly workshops for all student members in Cambridge, at every level of ability, to train themselves in public speaking and learn how to competitively debate. It is this training that produced the top two debaters at the World University Debating Championships in 2015.

At University level, our International competitions are the most prestigious in the UK and some of the best-known in the world, with teams from Harvard to Malaysia attending, and our Women’s Competition helps to redress the gender disparity across competitive debating.