How has the debating landscape changed over the past five years in The Netherlands?

doorBestuur Nederlandse Debatbond

How has the debating landscape changed over the past five years in The Netherlands?

Written by Jos Buijvoets

This will be an article examining the increase of tournament possibilities offered within The Netherlands. I will introduce a discussion about a decrease in tournament attendance, make a comparison between 2013 (when I started) and 2018 and highlight the difference between the two.

There has been discussion recently about the state of the Dutch university debating scene which has centered around two claims: 1. Fewer people attend tournaments and 2. Associations have seen a decline in membership. Various reasons have been given to explain why these have occurred including: too much focus on very analytical high level debating, the new system of (not) financing university students by the Dutch government. I disagree with the claims. There might be a decline in membership or attendance specific to some associations and tournaments to which the stated reasons might have contributed, I am unsure however if overall less people attend tournaments and join debate associations as I have not seen numbers that back this up. Regardless of the truth on overall decline, I do think it’s valuable to invest in improving the numbers, which is why a promotional manual is forthcoming. A discussion about the why has value as well, but I feel that this should be grounded in numbers rather than feelings. What are membership totals over the years, new members per association for this year and numbers about tournament attendance over the years? In the remainder of this article I would like to make a small contribution to this discussion by highlighting something which I feel has been underrated as a factor, which is that the amount of tournaments has increased massively over the past few years.

This article will be pretty straightforward. It will identify the tournaments that took place structurally in 2013 organized by university (debate) associations and will do the same for 2018. It will then compare the two landscapes. A tournament that happens to not have been organized once will still be included. A number of associations organize high school tournaments, these will not be included. A number of associations organize tournaments focused on their own members, these will not be included. Small tournaments will be defined as those with less than 32 speakers usually attending. Contact me if you feel a tournament has been overlooked or misrepresented!

2013 tournaments

Tournament Format Language Days Small?
Bonapartiaans Debattoernooi AP Dutch 1 no
Cicero AP Dutch 1 no
DAPDI BP English 2 no
Debattoernooi Utrecht BP Dutch 1 no
Erasmus Rotterdam BP Dutch 2(?) no
Kalliope Debattoernooi BP Dutch 2 no
Leiden Open BP English 2 no
Mace BP English 1 yes
NK AP Dutch 1 no
Roosevelt Open BP English 2 no
Trivium BP Dutch 1 no
UCU Open BP English 2 no
NK Beleidsdebatteren BD Dutch 1 no
Leiden Novice BP English 1 no
NK Eloquentia WB Dutch 1 yes

2013 summary

Fifteen tournaments took place annually totaling twenty-one days. Six tournaments were English-language and nine were Dutch-language. Ten tournaments were BP. Two tournaments were relatively small.

 

2018

Tournament Format Language Days Small?
Bonapartiaans Debattoernooi AP Dutch 1 no
Cicero AP Dutch 1 no
DAPDI BP English 2 no
Debattoernooi Utrecht BP Dutch 1 no
Erasmus Rotterdam Open BP English 2 no
Kalliope Debattoernooi BP Dutch 2 no
Leiden Open BP English 2 no
Mace BP English 1 yes
NK BP Dutch 2 no
Roosevelt Open BP English 2 no
Trivium WSDC Dutch 1 no
UCU Open BP English 2 no
NK Beleidsdebatteren BD Dutch 1 no
Maastricht Novice BP English 1 no
Cicero Winter BP Dutch 1 yes
Utrecht special (fe fantasy) BP Dutch 1 yes
BDT prep AP Dutch 1 yes
Maastricht Open BP English 2 no
Tilburg Women’s Open BP English 2 no
Delft Open BP English 2 no
Amsterdam Open BP English 2 no
Leiden Novice BP English 1 no
NK Eloquentia WB Dutch 1 yes
Leiden combi BP Dutch 1 yes

2018 summary

Twenty-four tournaments take place annually totaling thirty-five days. Twelve tournaments are English-language and twelve are Dutch-language. Nineteen tournaments are BP. Six tournaments are relatively small.

 

Comparison

If we compare 2013 and 2018 we see an increase in tournaments totaling fourteen days (a 56% increase), only four of which represent small tournaments. The landscape also seems to have an increase in tournaments that are focused on a specific type of accessibility. In 2013 there was one novice tournament and one that was rhetorically-focused. In 2018 there’s an additional novice tournament, a prep tournament, two tournaments which are bring-a-friend, a women’s tournament as well as a WSDC-formatted tournament. Admittedly, some of these seem to be under pressure (BDT prep, Leiden combi). Given the increase in tournaments and the diversity of them, I don’t think you can easily state the debating landscape has become less accessible or that a decrease in attendance at some of them means there’s automatically a strong case overall tournament attendance is decreasing.

As a final note I just want to mention three factors which were not mentioned but can also contribute (slightly) to a decrease in tournament attendance despite not necessarily being bad in terms of adding value to the accessibility or level of competitive debating. These factors are:

  • The amount of high school tournaments has increased dramatically since 2013 which also puts a strain on university debaters as organizers, coaches and judges.
  • A number of associations have internal competitions now whereas they did not structurally have them over the past few years including Cicero and Trivium.
  • The current board of the Debatbond has brought you the Dutch Debating League which features an internal competition between eight associations with a ‘worth’ of probably several small tournaments.

 

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