Higher Education Postcard: Rag Week

Nowadays university rag is fun charity work. But it wasn’t always that way, finds Hugh Jones.

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Well, here’s a scene. Unidentified but, according to the seller on eBay, involving King’s College London and University College London students, the cartoon shows a “rescue” – by the look of it a mobbing of the police who had detained a student.

There’s a proper dust-up going on here, perhaps rather more Bertie Wooster and the Drones Club than the Poll Tax riot in 1990. The card doesn’t have a date on it, but judging by the dress and the lettering, I’d suggest maybe the 1930s – when considerably less than 2% of the population got a degree, and men outnumbered women at university by 5:2.

Or try this incident, from the Derry Journal, 4 November 1921:

UNIVERSITY RAG. Kidnapping at Aberdeen. Amusing Incident. The P.A. Aberdeen correspondent says— An amazing kidnapping rag in connection with the Aberdeen University Rectorial Election took place last night. On Wednesday the independent Liberal students attempted to lure into a motor car Mr. F. C. Thompson, the Coalition-Unionist M.P. for South Aberdeen, apparently with the intent of driving him to a country inn, in order to prevent him addressing a meeting of Coalition Unionists. The plot miscarried. Yesterday the Unionists forcibly abducted four leading officials the University Liberal Party—the President, Vice-president, Secretary, and a prominent member of the Executive Committee. Two were seized near the University Buildings and thrust into a motor car. Another was pounced upon while having dinner in his lodgings, and a fourth was captured descended from a tram-car. The last-mentioned put up a strenuous fight, and there came his aid two lady students, who belaboured the Press gang with their umbrellas. The four captured were driven to the private residence of a Unionist, and kept there until a meeting of their party at the University had concluded. Several private houses were raided by the students in a vain search of their four kidnapped comrades. The latter were eventually driven to an hotel, where the Unionists were holding a social function, and were ushered in, grotesquely bedecked with the colours of the Liberal Party — red, white and blue ribbons. Voting for the rector takes place on Saturday, the candidates being Sir Donald Mac- Lean. M.P. (Liberal); Sir Robert Horne. M.P. (Coalition-Unionist); and Professor Soddy, Cambridge (Labour).

Its hard to see an attempted kidnapping of an MP being taken quite so lightly today.

The Guardian reported in March 2018 about the changing nature of university rag:

A member of the staff of the Merseyside Hospitals Council, which arranges the counting of money collected during Liverpool’s Panto Week, has watched the change over more than thirty years. He says:

It’s a social thing. Up to 20 years ago students all came from one background, and there was still a division between the social classes. You could see it reflected on Boat Race Night, too. Students in those days were gentlemen with their horseplay. They could knock a policeman’s helmet off and give him five bob; they could upset one of the masses with their pranks and could tip him afterwards to smooth him down, and there’d be goodwill on both sides. Now that students aren’t a class apart, people won’t take it any more.””

Or try this incident with a Bristolian Gorilla from the 1950s.

Rag has been an occasional source of humour on postcards. Here’s another from Cambridge, this one sent in 1907:

Fights and mischief seem to be the underlying principles, rather than raising and giving. University authorities are probably very glad that the culture has changed in this regard.

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