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Defending free
speech since 1815

From its small beginnings as a debating society, 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.

What is a Debate

A debate is a formal argument between two or more opposing sides. Whilst most people only hear about debates when there’s an election, at The Cambridge Union we have been exercising the right to freedom of speech since 1815.

The Union has come a long way from its old fashioned origins as a private members’ club. With over half the student population of Cambridge holding life membership, the Society is now at the heart of the Cambridge experience. Debates and speaker events are held every Thursday at the Debate Chamber at The Cambridge Union – the Union is a hub of student activity in a University with no centralised Student Union building.

We currently host famous and interesting individuals from all over the world outside of our debates. These speakers range from politicians to Olympians and from business people to journalists. We host them for one purpose – so our members can meet them, question them, and challenge them on their views.


The highlight of the week is always our Thursday night debate. Every Thursday we invite some of the best speakers from across the world to debate a hot topic of the day alongside students. Students can either audition to deliver a paper speech alongside our guests, speak from the floor, or simply enjoy watching a fantastic night. Recent debate speakers have ranged from Cabinet Ministers to figures from the sex industry and topics have ranged from the future of the NHS to the limits of free speech.

After the debate, there is a chance to meet the speakers in the bar where you can enjoy the affordable food and drink we offer.

Credits: Flo Tawns

Credits: Tobia Nava

Speaker Events

In addition to our debates, we hold keynote speaker events where students have the chance to question some of the World’s most famous and interesting figures.

There are normally about two of these events a week and we attract a hugely diverse range of speakers. From Robert de Nero to Ekin-Su, from Nancy Pelosi to Claudio Ranieri, there is always a speaker that will interest you. These events usually take the form of a short interview (which students can audition to do) followed by a Q&A with the audience. There is also often the chance to meet the speakers.

Union membership grants you exclusive access to these events.

Social Events

Perhaps the highlight of each term is the Union Ball. We hold a Winter Ball, a Lent Ball, and a summer Garden Party which are some of the biggest and most affordable events in
Cambridge. With free-flowing drinks, the best food in Cambridge, live music, fairground attractions, and even ball pits, these are not events to miss. Union membership guarantees exclusive discounts to these events and makes them cheaper than any other comparable event in Cambridge.

In addition to our balls, we offer a range of weekly events. In recent terms, we have held
weekly Zumba classes, a Eurovision Party
with cheap cocktails, and a cheese-tasting night. These events are often free for members and offer a fantastic chance to socialise in a fun and welcoming environment.

An Educational Charity

At its heart, the Union has always been about enabling free speech and we are active in over 18 countries worldwide from the UK to the Far East, East Africa and even Mongolia. We promote the art of debate through training in schools and running competitive debating. Our members are funded by the society on outreach programmes to teach and coach secondary school students in public speaking , communication skills and the ability to undertake reasoned and balanced discussion around difficult subjects . These skills can then be tested in regional and national competitions run by the Union with finals in the debating Chamber here in Cambridge. We also run a range of scholarship programmes to encourage disadvantaged university students to take part in debating . With education at our core we directly reach over 12,000 people each year through our charitable activities and enable many more to develop life long communications skills. Membership subscriptions directly support this work.

More than debating

The Union has come a long way from its old fashioned origins as a private members’ club where we are now have opportunities for the public to experience the life of a Cambridge student by watching the debates and guest speakers, as well dining in The Orator, newly refurbished union Bar and Restaurant (previously 1815 bar).  

Hire event space, say ‘I do’ and get married in the historic chamber. Whatever you are looking for The Cambridge Union and The Orator can provide the perfect platform. 

Education is at the heart of the Union’s charitable activities. The Cambridge Schools’ Debating Competition, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, is the largest in the world with over 600 teams competing.

Behind the scenes

John Brown

John Brown


Joe Burman

Joe Burman

General Manager

Sam Heap

Sam Heap

Manager – The Orator

Meet the rest of our team

View All

Hannah Goodger

Hannah Goodger

Event Coordinator

Katherine Connelly

Katherine Connelly

Sales & Marketing Executive

Justyna Macoch

Justyna Macoch

Membership Secretary / Office Supervisor 

Become a
member today.

Join Cambridge’s largest student society today for the opportunity to see world-class speakers and debaters as well as many other member benefits.

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