In recent years, a shift in politics has occurred in the young generation. International relations and global politics have become a key interest for young people. Increasing abstention from political participation by young people in countries such as France has been mistakenly explained as a lack of interest in politics. However, this is a mere cliché that is embedded within a more complex phenomenon that Anne Muxel, a French sociologist, calls ‘desinstitutionalisation’ of political commitment, where the former becomes less centered and more open to global issues. This trend can be seen through university Model United Nations conferences happening all over the world where students have the opportunity to debate current world issues replicating the structure of the United Nations.
One of the most awaited conferences this year was the Oxford International Model United Nations conference (OxIMUN). This is probably the biggest UK based MUN conference and takes place at the prestigious and renowned University of Oxford. Students from all around the world, from Belgium to the United States, eagerly attended the three day conference, from the 2nd to the 4th of November. The structure of the conference is modeled on the United Nations, with students holding different positions from members of the Secretariat, to Press, to Directors to country delegates who animated the debates in the different committees.
What a better place than the Oxford MUN to find motivated and politically driven young people? Juliane Guerian, the Under Secretary-General for Personnel for OxIMUN, enthusiastically recalls her high school days when she first joined MUN. She states that it was being a representative of a country, especially one with controversial views, as well as debating current affairs, which triggered her interest in MUN. She did not imagine, however, that she would continue it all through her university years nor that MUN would become such a big part of her life.
Anshu De Silva Wijeyeratne, who studies at the University of Sydney and chaired the Security Council, adds that participating at MUN conferences is a great way to “develop [the] skills and knowledge necessary for a career in the international sector”. Anshu states that this “offers a valuable simulation of the overarching processes and dynamics of the real UN”. Christina Andrews, chairing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) committee, acknowledges that it is easy to be skeptical about the MUN as nothing substantive comes out of the conferences. Delegates pass resolutions but do not actually resolve global issues. However, Christina strongly rejects these critiques as she believes “resolutions often embody the true spirit and goals of the UN and provide excellent education in international policy, rhetoric, and diplomacy”.
MUN is often said to be beneficial for students, helping to develop their diplomatic and rhetorical skills. Sandeep Rajgopal, from Berlin, chair UNCTAD alongside Christina, advocates the oratorical abilities developed through the participation at conferences where one’s spontaneity as an orator is often challenged. The UNCTAD Director also believes in the widening of one’s political knowledge in terms of global issues. Anshu adds that what differs from MUN to a more theoretical academic approach to politics is the ability to put into practice the study of international relations. One of the challenging aspects of MUN is to represent a country’s policies accurately without personal views infringing upon decision making to resolve the issue at hand. It also permits the students to be emerged in contemporary politics with real global issues being tackled.
Behind the debates, there is also an entire team of students who spend months organizing the conference from the booking of venues, to the planning of the very popular socials. Imran Bhaluani sees his role as Secretary General as one of the most challenging endeavors of his MUN career. Running the OxIMUN conference “involved managing a team, preparing suitable topics for 18 committees, and dealing with questions from 50 chairs and 500 delegates”. His biggest satisfaction was from receiving such positive feedbacks about the conference. This year’s conference was even larger than previous ones with the introduction of the Diversity Scholarship Program that permitted more delegates from around the world to come to the conference, such as a delegation from Thailand.
Beyond the rules of procedures, MUN is also an extremely social and cosmopolitan place where students are exposed to various nationalities and cultures. Bianca Marin, director of the International Court of Justice, puts an emphasis on the social aspect of MUN which give a great opportunity to build transnational relationships. Bianca states that “MUNs have been for me an invaluable way of self-discovery, enhancing my spiritual growth”. She overcame her fear of public speaking through her participation in the conferences, which in turn enhanced her communications skills, allowing her to form long lasting friendships with her fellow chairs and delegates.
Felipe Cuello, chairing UNESCO, states that he appreciates the seriousness harbored by all the participants, “which is a testament to how successful MUN really is”. Taking part in the game is the whole essence of the conferences according to him, with delegates being pawns in the geopolitical struggle built in committees. Like Bianca, Felipe also greatly values the multi-cultural aspect of MUN. He describes the friendships created during MUN as “[life-long] influences” and says that meeting his co-chairs at OxIMUN was one of his favorite parts of the conference. Felipe’s co-chair, Benjamin Dive, a Physics student at Oxford, echoed Felipe’s sentiment by pointing out that chairing alongside his two co-chairs was “endless fun”. Benjamin also describes this year’s OxIMUN as the best conference he has ever been to. Being a physicist, he admits that he does not seek career opportunities through his participation at MUN, unlike Felipe who aspires to work for the United Nations. However, Benjamin sees MUN as an opportunity to improve one’s diplomatic skills by learning the art of compromise, as well as the expansion of one’s mind by detaching oneself from one’ own beliefs. Chairing UNESCO was an opportunity for both directors to learn to focus on the task at hand while running and monitoring the debate, which can prove to be challenging, as it is easy to deviate from topic during debates.
MUN could only be accurately described as a melting pot where international issues are debated by an international team of students. Although it does not resolve global issues, it shows a level of dedication and high interest from students around to world in solving international problems. In a letter of support, Ban Ki-Moon states that MUN is about working “together to help young people make the most of their energies, ideas and leadership potential” in a world where youth unemployment dwells among us. MUN is first and foremost a way to gain insights in the political world as well as to develop diplomatic skills within the confines of UN rules of procedure. Conferences such as OxIMUN show a high level of involvement from the young generation in global politics where political participation goes beyond the mere adherence to a political party.