Debating provides a marvellous opportunity for students to become independent learners and productive members of society, Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Education and Scientific Research and President of Zayed University, said yesterday. Opening the formal launch of the university's English Debating Society, Sheikh Nahyan said, "The primary focus of Zayed University is to develop students into independent learners and equip them to find a place in the fast-moving information age."

Debating is an important component of learning and valuable training. Speaking on the virtues of debating, Sheikh Nahyan said testing their ideas in debate, the students were improving their critical thinking, logic, organisation, public speaking and objective evaluation. At the same time, debating could also be great fun and provide an opportunity for intellectual stimulation. 

Sheikh Nahyan called the debating society a "marvellous learning opportunity" and said its success depended on them. "Our expectations of you are high. On our side, we are committed to providing you with good opportunities and academic potential," he said. The Zayed University debating society started out as a small club in April 1999 with five members. Its purpose was to encourage women to express their viewpoint, said May Altaei, president of the debating society.

In two years the club debated a wide variety of topics such as "Should mothers be working women?", "Women at the helm make the workplace better", "Racism" and "Should Arab men take on the role assumed for women?" The club was founded by activities coordinator Lubna Zaidi as an activity for her English students. As its popularity grew, it was turned into a society this year.

The society has issued a newsletter entitled, "Pros & Cons" and has a website designed by one of the students, Batool Salem. An online debate forum will also be available for faculty and students to express their views and opinions.

The ZU debating society is chaired this year by May Altaei, a second-year student majoring in information systems. In her words, she joined the club "to get over stage fright, become a successful public speaker, enhance my leadership skills and have some fun." The society's mission: to help institute more debating societies in other colleges and encourage local girls to think critically and express themselves clearly.