Knocking a big hole in criticism that today's youngsters are interested in Harry Potter and little else, the World Universities Debating Championships - staged last week in Pattaya - drew more than 1,200 participants from 40 countries and involved some seriously clever exchanges on important issues.
Designed to foster open-mindedness by tabling issues that many of the debaters will not have had encountered before, the championships have tackled Aids, religious faith, the "gay gene" and the wisdom of assassinating Vladimir Putin, among many other topics.
Somehow the students always seem to make the arguments fun as well as fulfilling.
When it comes to debating, Christine Su has always been ready to rumble.
The president of the debating society at Stanford University in the US admits she's been argumentative since childhood, to the point where her friends said she ought to take her mouth onstage. She's also studying political science, so keep an eye on the White House.
"Debating has definitely expanded my horizons, and it's made me more tolerant," she said. She once entered a debate on whether Mexicans who enter the US illegally but then serve in the military should be granted citizenship. Su thought the idea was nonsense and said so. Her opponent convinced her otherwise.
Veteran haggler Nick Long of Cambridge University has used his debating skills to help police forces formulate policy on such acute issues as the death penalty. Once the officers engage in formal debate, he said, they learn to examine all sides of an issue and drop old misconceptions.
All too often, Long said, people hold on to a belief just because they inherited it from their parents, a teacher or someone else in authority. They never think for themselves about the reasoning behind it.
"What debating really forces you to do is get to the key principle that underlies a particular belief, whether its yours or someone else's," he said. "You have to think about it critically and be able to communicate that to other people."
Europe and America were the birthplaces of formal debating societies, but Thai students are keen for more opportunities. Chulalongkorn University's Pacharaporn Panomwan Na Ayutthaya, 21, who made it to the final 30 for English-as-a-second-language teams, said she hopes the country will see more debating competitions, even if it's only in the classrooms.
Her team had the Kingdom's best showing, in an event dominated by Britain's Oxford and Cambridge universities and with worthy efforts from Australia, Japan and the Netherlands.
"At school there's no discussion about what we read - even the teachers get bored with the same old books," Pacharaporn said. "If we debate, we can see more deeply than the surface of the books."
Debating skills, she added, can be useful after graduation, and global events like the one in Pattaya can give Thais more confidence in dealing with English speakers. Unfortunately, she said, there isn't as much public or private support for them here as there is in Japan and South Korea.
The event's convenor, Thepparith Senamngern, suggested that Thai politicians could learn from formal debating as well. He winces at the way they drone on in a monotone in Parliament and take ages to get to the point.
Ian Lising, who chairs the debate competition, said provocative topics are often chosen deliberately, even at the risk of offending someone. The point isn't so much the subject matter as it is giving people a soapbox from which they can voice their opinions aloud.
"If they don't have a venue to express themselves, that leads to conflict, not resolution. They feel cheated, they feel robbed, they feel they weren't part of the democratic process."
The soapbox is getting bigger. Qatar will soon host the Middle East's first English-language debating tournament, under the auspices of the granddaddy of debate societies, Britain's Oxford Union.
Log on to blog.nationmultimedia.-com/lisnaree to view videos of the debate finals.