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Raising the Bar takes education out of the lecture theatre

21 October 2015

Have you heard the one about the professor who walked into a bar? On Tuesday night, more than 1000 Sydneysiders did, when they turned up to 20 bars to hear from 20 academics as part of the inaugural Raising the Bar Sydney.

Megan MacKenzie speaking at Raising the Bar

Thirst for knowledge: Megan MacKenzie spoke on women on the frontline at The Forresters in Surry Hills as part of Raising the Bar Sydney.

Our experts shared their knowledge and answered questions from the crowd on topics as diverse as research into medicinal cannabinoids, why Muslim women wear the veil, getting into the housing market, and quantum physics.

The University of Sydney brought Raising the Bar - a popular worldwide initiative previously run in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong and London - to Sydney for the first time this year.

The event began in 2014 with a group of students from Columbia and New York universities looking to share ideas from some of the world's greatest minds with the general public.

Dr Rebecca Sheehan, who spoke about women, danger and popular music at The Record Crate in Glebe, said the event was a wonderful opportunity to discuss ideas with an engaged, interested audience.

"Mutual engagement and support is critical for the futures of tertiary education and society," Dr Sheehan said.

Dr Vannessa Hearman, who spoke about Australia’s relationship with Indonesia at Surry Hills' PlayBar, said the format was perfect because people could engage at different levels, follow up with the speaker or do their own research following the talk.

"It was easy to assume that people who came along had an interest in, or knowledge on, the topic, but it turned out that some came along precisely because they knew little about Indonesia."

Dr Hearman also said the event showcased the variety of research being conducted at the University.

"It demonstrates the role of public funding for education, in ensuring that our researchers can take on all manner of research topics, not necessarily those that just seem utilitarian at the outset.

"This is how great ideas are generated. Pure research. Raising the Bar can help the University make a stronger case [for] why public funding is so vital."

Dr Hearman said too often education was out of reach for people once they finish school or university.

"Informal talks provide life-long education and it is important to create an engaged citizenry and sow the seed in people's minds that further education is possible," she said.

Abril Felman from Darlington, who attended Professor Sahar Amer’s talk on veiling at Knox Street Bar in Chippendale, said the event was a unique experience.

"Sahar Amer was an amazing speaker and I really liked that she put the debate [about veiling] into context," Ms Felman said.

"The hijabs she brought along to the talk were also really cool and made it feel less like a lecture and more like a good talk you'd have in a bar."

"One of the things that stood out for me was the extensive trivia knowledge I now have thanks to the talk. I had no idea there were four countries in the world which force women to wear the burqa, for example."

"It's important that there are opportunities like Raising the Bar because the knowledge that Sahar shared really put the whole debate into perspective for me. The way she incorporated her own experience of wearing the veiling was also a really engaging way to tackle [a] complex topic."

New York-based Raising the Bar CEO Yuli Luvish said the initiative created an environment for leading scholars to share their knowledge in an intimate and personal way.

"The lecture hall can be intimidating and cyberspace can be alienating. So we bring thought-leaders and their ideas to the comfort of a bar which is where people have always had conversations," Ms Luvish said.

"There is an increasingly wonderful trend of learning as a way of life. Universities, online classes and Ted talks have been promoting life-long learning. We believe people want to learn things that are outside of their usual routine and are keen to meet and listen to people who inspire them.

"We are very fortunate to collaborate with the prestigious University of Sydney to host Raising the Bar Sydney."

All 20 Raising the Bar Sydney talks will be available as podcasts this week.

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