Regent’s University London has completed its second annual Model United Nations Conference (MUN) [4-5 July 2015], welcoming 50 school students aged 14-18 to take part in organised debates focusing on global challenges ranging from terrorism and disease, through to drug trafficking and healthcare.
Working in groups divided into the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, and Security Council, the students represented different countries and were given ‘real-time’ updates on conflicts and developing situations across the globe during realistic UN-styled ‘caucuses’ (assemblies).
Tamara Djurovic (15) from ACS Cobham International School in Surrey represented France on the UN Security Council. She said: “We’ve been combatting militant groups, reviewing counter terrorism strategies and preventing the radicalisation of young people.
“We’re receive ongoing updates so you really have to think on your feet. It’s challenging but great fun. MUN has definitely given me an insight into other countries’ points of view.”
Students from St Albans high School for Girls were similarly enthusiastic about their introduction to MUN and the need for rapid-fire diplomacy.
Lydia Pazzi-Axworthy (16) commented: “I’m acting as the United States on the General Assembly. I have allies, but I also have enemies so reaching a consensus with other countries is difficult.”
Maddy Liber (17) agreed that the challenges of cooperation could be daunting. She added: “I’m presenting Iran’s case on the World Health Organisation and it’s been very interesting as their views often conflict with my own.”
There was also heated debate over whether the voting age for young people in the UK – currently 18 – should be lowered.
Students from Loughborough Grammar School were split on the issue. Zhing-Liu (17) said: “I don’t think 15-17 year-olds should be allowed to vote. We might have lots of ideas, but I’m probably not at the right age to make that sort of contribution yet.”
Sam Stevens (17) was all for the idea. “I Thought I might be out of my depth at MUN, but the role play and sense of completion when a resolution is pushed through successfully is very rewarding.
“I think if young people aged 15 upwards were better informed about world affairs, then lowering the voting age would be a good idea. We might be more enthused if we knew we had a right to vote.”
Jess Gray, English Teacher and Debate Club leader at Bishop Thomas Grant School in Lambeth has been involved in MUN conferences for the last three years and has every confidence in the political abilities of students taking part in the event.
She explains: “Seeing the students grow in confidence and challenge other people’s ideas is very rewarding. They get to access ideas and topics way beyond school level, and have to research their countries in great detail.
“This might seem straightforward if you’re Russia, which has a fairly defined position, but if you have a smaller country like Myanmar it can involve a lot of dense research to establish a government’s position on the issues.
“With regards lowering the voting age I would say that if citizenship was taught effectively across all schools, I think it could be a really exciting idea.”
While young people are often criticised for apathy and a lack of political interest, the students worked hard throughout the weekend while receiving guidance from Regent’s University London’s own Model UN staff and students, many of who have been involved with MUN conferences across the world over the last ten years.
Richard Canal (22), a Regent’s BA International Human Rights graduate, said: “As MUN General Assembly Chair, my role has been to help the younger students with their objectives and encourage them to work together and manage conflict. I’ve been really impressed by their ideas and approaches.
“These young people can have a huge influence in the world and I wish at their age I’d had the motivation, insight and opportunity to vote. Their fresh views are needed.”