Debating Matters

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Debating Matters a project of the Institute of Ideas a core element of the LM network

Debating Matters is a debating competition for schools and is a project of the Institute of Ideas[1], associated with the libertarian anti-environmental LM network. It was launched in 2003.[2] Since 2008, there has been a Debating Matters competition in India, produced in partnership with the British Council and Shell.

In March 2011, it claimed "Over the past eight years, Debating Matters has involved over 12,000 students"[3]

Topics guides provided to participating pupils include material from LM associated entities Academics for Academic Freedom, the Manifesto Club, Sense About Science and Spiked. These topics guides are offered as Key Stage 4 teaching resources by the Times Educational Supplement. [4] Other material comes from sponsors Pfizer and Wellcome Trust, from industry associations and from free enterprise think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation. A recent project is the Research Councils UK funded Global Uncertainties Schools Network. Involvement in Debating Matters is offered as part of a Fulbright Award. [5]

Individuals prominently involved include Helen Birtwhistle, Justine Brian and Tony Gilland,[6] all associates of the LM network.

Debating Matters seeks to develop ongoing relationships with the school pupils who have taken part in their debates, styling them alumni and encouraging them to remain involved. The organisation envisages a "global network" of alumni as Debating Matters "extends to other countries". [7]

In March 2011, following a five year funding award from the Wellcome Trust, it announced "Most of the award will underpin an ambitious plan to double the capacity of Debating Matters in the UK and India, working with a wide range of existing and new partner organisations in both countries. The planned programme of expansion – from 192 to 384 schools in the UK and from 96 to 192+ schools in India – will involve the development of the Debating Matters alumni programmes in each country as well as the provision of exciting new written and audiovisual resources to support schools in their debating activities; both within the formal competition and in addition to it."[8]


The purpose of the programme was clear from the outset: "Following the Battle of Ideas 2005, the Institute of Ideas embarked on a project with Pfizer to examine and generate debate about problems with school science education in the UK." [9]

Major sponsors include Pfizer, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.[10]

Pfizer's support may be motivated by the topics which include subjects of interest to the pharmaceutical industry such as: the value or otherwise of complementary medicine, NHS rationing of expensive drugs, clinical trials in developing countries, fertility treatments, genetic screening, anti-aging treatments, genetic engineering and animal experimentation. Pfizer has a long history of support for LM activities, notably the Battle of Ideas.

The Medical Research Council also has a long history of support for LM activities, including sponsoring the Battle of Ideas in 2005 and involvement in Pro-Test, of which James Panton was a prominent member. The Human Genetics Unit of the MRC, which works in controversial areas, encourages interactions between scientists and schools. One unit researcher, for example, acts as a Debating Matters judge at local, regional and national level, even though "debates do not always involve scientific issues". [11]

During the four years 2007/8 to 20010/11, the Debating Matters and its partner organisation, Battle of Ideas, received £330,000 of public funds from the Economic and Science Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council. More recently, significant support have been provided by the British Council and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.

Both Pfizer and the Medical Research Council have also supported Spiked. [12]

The involvement of the Economic and Social Research Council predates its 2010 funding of the Debating Matters Global Uncertainties Schools Network. For example, in 2007/8 the council reported that ESRC researchers had participated in (Debating Matters} panels and that ESRC material (The Edge) was used as background reading for the students. [13]

Grants made by the Wellcome Foundation included £210,000 during the period Dec 2002 to November 2004[14] and £200,000 during the period October 2007 to September 2008.[15] Wellcome noted in justification for its support that "Debating Matters is unique among debating competitions in the prominence it gives to topics related to scientific and biomedical controversies."[16]

There are, from 2010, eight tiers of sponsorship.

In addition to primary funder, the Wellcome Trust, and Headline Sponsor, Pfizer, sponsors in 2011 include:

Headline Prize Sponsor - Hodder Education
Regional Sponsor - Canterbury Christ Church University; EAGA, ESRC, MRC and NHS NICE
Venue Partner - Cancer Research UK; Free Word
Regional Final Prize Sponsor - None
National Final Prize Sponsor - Prospect
Supporters - None

In March 2011, the Wellcome Trust made a 'Strategic Award' of £825,000 over five years to support "debates about developments in biomedicine"; specifically the Battle of Ideas and Debating Matters. [17]


Facebook page: Debating Matters Competition
Facebook group: Debating Matters
Twitter Debating Matters
YouTube Debating Matters


  1. Home page, Debating Matters website, accessed 1 May 2010
  2. About, Debating Matters website, acc 1 May 2010
  3. [ Newsletter} Institute of Ideas website acc 5 Mar 2011
  4. Debating Matters, TES website, acc 14 Dec 2010
  5. Additional Opportunities, Fulbright Commission website, acc 30 Dec 2010
  6. People, Debating Matters website, acc 1 May 2010
  7. Alumni, Debating Matters website, acc 14 Feb 2011
  8. Newsletter Institute of Ideas website acc 5 Mar 2011
  9. Newsletters, Institute of Ideas website, acc 14 Feb 2011
  10. Sponsors and Supporters, Debating Matters website, acc 1 May 2010
  11. School activities MRC website acc 14 Feb 2011
  12. Brand Managers Pack Spiked website acc 14 Feb 2011
  13. Delivery Report 2007/8 ESRC website acc 14 Feb 2011
  14. Society Award: Activities summaries Wellcome website acc 5 Feb 2011
  15. Society Award: Activities summaries Wellcome website acc 5 Feb 2011
  16. [ Society Award: Activities summaries] Wellcome website acc 5 Feb 2011
  17. Strategic Award supports The Battle of Ideas festival and Debating Matters Wellcome Trust website acc 5 March 2011