The Best Delegate team has been visiting different Model UN conferences around the country all year and we’ve noticed that two different groups of schools attend college Model UN conferences.
One group mostly attends the conferences hosted by U.Penn, Georgetown, Yale, U.Chicago, and Berkeley, and this group views the Harvard National MUN Conference (HNMUN) as their “super bowl.” We call this group of schools and the conferences they attend the “World Division” circuit.
The other group mostly attends independently-organized conferences such as Model UN of the Far West and American Model UN, and they view the National MUN Conference (NMUN) as their big conference of the year. We call this the “National Division” circuit.
The two circuits are not mutually exclusive. Schools such as Florida International University and Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Venezuela attend both HNMUN and NMUN. Schools are free to register for conferences of either circuit (although the bigger conferences have waiting lists). Nonetheless, college Model UN in the United States has evolved into these two separate circuits.
What’s the difference between the two circuits? More importantly, is there something that they can learn from one another?
To answer these questions, I compared the Top 25 North American schools in the World Division and the 23 US-based schools that received Outstanding Delegation at NMUN. Combined with my observations from live blogging the World Division conferences and NMUN, I noticed 5 key differences.
Click “Learn More” below to find out what the 5 key differences are!
1. Different types of schools make up the different circuits.
World Division – These schools tend to be smaller and more exclusive institutions, with an average acceptance rate of 36%, and two-thirds are private. Almost all are part of the US News Top 100 National Universities rankings or Top 100 National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings.
National Division – These schools tend to be larger and more open institutions, with an average acceptance rate of 67%, and one-third are private. Half are part of US News rankings and these schools are split between national and regional rankings.
2. Different types of organizations host the conferences of the different circuits.
World Division – The conferences are organized by student organizations staffed almost entirely by undergraduates from a single school. Most of the conferences take place at a hotel in the same city as the hosting school.
National Division – The conferences tend to be sponsored by non-profit organizations independent of any single school, such as the National Collegiate Conference Association (NCCA), which sponsors NMUN. The NMUN staff comprises mainly graduate students from different schools, and the different NMUN conferences take place in different cities – NY, DC, and various locations abroad – but the NCCA is based in Minnesota.
3. Different types of committees are featured on the different circuits.
World Division – Committees range from “traditional” simulations of the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and Security Council, to “creative” committees unrelated to the UN or modern international organizations – a few simulations are completely fictional. All of the World Division conferences include crisis committees and several (Columbia CMUNNY, Yale SCSY, Georgetown NCSC, U.Chicago ChoMUN, etc.) feature them almost exclusively.
National Division – Committees tend to be more traditional simulations that strive for realism. NMUN prides itself on having rules of procedure that more accurately reflect those used at the UN. A few NMUN committees, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, write reports instead of resolutions – this is a more accurate reflection of the documents these bodies produce.
4. Different types of feedback drive the different circuits.
World Division – Their leaders are students, from the head delegates to the secretary-general to the club president. The primary source of feedback comes from head delegate meetings that take place at each conference.
National Division – Their leaders are professors and professionals. Half the members of the NCCA board of directors and the NMUN board of advisors are professors. The boards also include professionals who work in international affairs, including former ambassadors. NMUN holds separate meetings for head delegates and faculty advisors.
5. Different types of funding sources finance the different circuits.
World Division – Many schools host conferences. Of those surveyed, 76% host a conference for high school or middle school students, and 40% host their own college conference. For most of these schools, the conferences they organize serve as a fundraiser for the travel teams to attend other conferences.
National Division – Few schools host a conference. Of those surveyed, 35% host a high school or middle school conference and only one hosts a college conference. However, students from these schools go on to staff independently-organized conferences.
The differences between the two circuits are not about which approach is better – rather, their differences reflect what they value about Model UN.
Model UN is part academic and part social. The activity teaches students about the UN and international affairs (academic), as well as how to communicate (social). The former is about hard knowledge, whereas the latter is about soft skills.
In committee, the academic part shows through research, the content of speeches, and the quality of resolutions. The social part comes out in the interaction between delegates, speech delivery, and negotiating resolutions. When delegates talk about how “competitive” a conference is, they’re referring to the social part of Model UN.
Outside of committee, conference-sponsored events can either have an academic purpose – expert panels, in-committee presentations by professors, mission briefings, movie screenings, etc. – or a social one, particularly the delegate dance. Events such as the leadership summits that have been hosted at NCSC, UPMUNC, and McMUN are also “social” – they teach delegates about the importance of networking.
Neither part is “better” than the other – the combination of the academic and social parts is what makes Model UN such an engaging experience. But what’s interesting is how this distinction frames the key differences between the two college Model UN circuits.
The National Division is focused on academics, whereas the World Division emphasizes the social part of Model UN.
All of NMUN’s committees are related to either the UN or modern international organizations. The conference prides itself on having more accurate rules of procedure and producing reports in some committees instead of resolutions. The NMUN staff consists primarily of grad students who spend a considerable amount of time during the conference to review working papers and provide delegates with feedback.
In contrast, World Division conferences have been focusing more and more on creative committees, many of which are unrelated to modern international affairs. This suggests a trend towards the social part of Model UN – many of these small, crisis-based committees have less to do with international relations and are more focused on the dynamics of group decision-making. It’s also not necessary to follow strict rules of procedure in these small bodies – many operate under a “permanent moderated caucus” format.
This distinction between the academic and social parts of Model UN is reflected in how the different circuits feel about competition and view the purpose of awards.
NMUN aims to de-emphasize awards and competition, and when I asked delegates and staff what makes the conference different, many said it was less “competitive” than World Division conferences. However, any conference that gives awards values competition to some extent, and NMUN delegates were proud to receive awards. But here’s what’s interesting – the delegates I spoke with who received awards attributed their success to hard work and preparation – they associated awards with the academic part of their Model UN experience.
In contrast, the World Division schools share a sports-like rivalry. Delegates strategize with their teammates between sessions about how to elevate their standing in committee, how they think they’re perceived by their chairs, and they assess the personalities of other delegates in their committees – these discussions are very focused on the social part of Model UN.
Delegates at NMUN talk about receiving awards as recognition of their hard work and preparation, whereas delegates at World Division conference talk about winning awards as part of an intercollegiate competition. For the National Division, Model UN is an academic exercise – for the World Division, Model UN is a social sport.
The two circuits literally spend more time on the different parts of Model UN that they value, as can be seen in the conference schedules of their largest conferences, NMUN and HNMUN.
NMUN scheduled 24.5 hours for committee sessions across five days and 4 hours for one social event, the delegate dance following closing ceremony. The conference featured panels with experts on international affairs and mission briefings with UN ambassadors, which took place outside of scheduled committee sessions.
HNMUN scheduled 20 hours for committee sessions across four days and 7.5 hours across three social events on each night of the conference (casino and club night on Thursday, cocktail hour on Friday, and the delegate dance on Saturday). The conference also featured lectures by Harvard professors, which took place during committee sessions.
Comparing the schedules of both conferences, NMUN allotted 4.5 more hours for committee sessions, devoted an entire morning to mission briefings, and organized multiple panels with international affairs experts and professionals. In contrast, HNMUN allotted 3.5 hours more for social events and organized two more social events than NMUN.
Of course, conference schedules don’t necessarily dictate how delegates at both conferences spent their time. Delegates at both conferences spent considerable time between committee sessions to work on resolutions (academic), as well as skip entire committee sessions to sleep in or do some shopping (social…kind of…). And the schedules of both conferences are not one-sided – they make time for both the academic and social part of Model UN.
Nonetheless, conference schedules reflect a deliberate decision of the conference organizers regarding how delegates should spend their time and what the conference values. And although NMUN and HNMUN make time for both the academic and social parts of Model UN, their schedules emphasize one part of the other.
Neither division is completely academic or social – they simply place a different emphasis on each part – and this is driven by the different types of Model UN participants they serve.
How did the National and World Divisions become more academic or more social? Look at who provides the feedback that drives these conferences. From their board of advisors to their feedback sessions, NMUN mainly listens to faculty advisors and professors who take their students to the conference as part of a class. In contrast, the World Division conferences are run by students for students.
Of course, conferences of both circuits bring out both the academic and social parts of Model UN. However, the design of each conference – specifically their committee types, schedule, and culture – emphasizes different parts of Model UN.
And again, neither approach to Model UN – whether it emphasizes the academic or the social – is better than the other. But the differences between the two circuits mean there are a few things that they can learn from one another.
What the National Division Circuit Can Learn
From my conversations with advisors at NMUN, the key issue facing many schools is fundraising. Most schools pursue traditional fundraising approaches, such as seeking grants from their student assembly or their academic departments (especially if Model UN is part of a class). In contrast, many of the World Division schools host their own Model UN conferences, which serve as fundraisers for their travel teams to attend conferences (although this is not true for some schools whose conference-organizing teams and travel teams are independent of one another).
NMUN and the NCCA should help schools host their own conferences for high school and middle school students. The conferences do not have to be large endeavors – they should start small, with one or two committees, and then grow in size and scale as conference organizers gain experience.
Besides raising funds, running conferences provides additional benefits. Designing a committee and writing background guides can be integrated in the curriculum of a Model UN class. College-run conferences prompt the high school students in attendance to consider applying to the host school. Conferences also create publicity for the Model UN program, which can drive recruitment and additional funding. Chairing a committee helps students become better delegates and organizing a conference is an opportunity for students to learn business skills.
What the World Division Circuit Can Learn
The key issue facing World Division schools is a lack of communication. The only time the conferences actively seek feedback is during the conference itself. Since the conferences are student-driven, feedback gets lost when conference organizers graduate, and it leads to miscommunication between schools.
In contrast, it seems that NMUN receives feedback throughout the year because it has a professional staff and a board of advisors. As a result, their conference feels more deliberate by design – the conference actively meets the needs of its “key customers,” e.g. faculty advisors and professors.
Each of the World Division college conferences should have a small “board of advisors” comprising former head delegates and Secretaries-General, both from the hosting school (internal directors) and other schools (external directors).
Make it an honor to put someone on your board, and use your board to make your conference better. Make the Secretariat accountable to the board by providing monthly or quarterly updates, such as a PowerPoint presentation on the changes you’d like to make for next year’s conference – this is actually a good learning opportunity for what it’s like to work at a big company.
Each conference is like its own small non-profit, and just like a non-profit, a conference should have a way to gather outside perspective. Having a board is not about ceding control of the conference – it’s about customer feedback and quality assurance.
What the Two Circuits Have in Common
Both circuits are expanding in the United States and abroad. In addition to their flagship NYC conference, NMUN takes place in DC and Europe, and I heard they’re thinking about starting another conference. HNMUN just launched its Latin America conference, and its high school counterpart, HMUN, already hosts conferences in China and India. And more and more schools in the World Division are starting to host their own college conferences, such as West Point, NYU, Cornell, and UCLA. (Check out this related Best Delegate post on the Top 12 Scheduling and Marketing Trends in Model UN)
Clubs and conferences of both circuits are experimenting with social media. NMUN delegates were particularly active on Twitter. Many conferences have Facebook pages that they’ve used to communicate announcements, and which also help keep delegates in touch after the conference ends.
And most importantly, students of both circuits enjoy learning about international affairs, traveling to cool places, and making friends. No matter the circuit, the conference, or the club, I see delegates who have fun while learning about the world, themselves, and each other in the process.
The two circuits share the essential elements that make Model UN great – everything else is simply another opportunity for us to learn from each other.
Do you agree on what makes the World Division and National Division different? Let us know what you think in the comments!