Bad behaviour that's all in a good cause: Students are carrying on the RAG tradition

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Each year, students raise millions of pounds for charities by doing what students do best – having a good time.

If you've ever been approached on the street by a group of young people in fancy dress thrusting buckets into your face and requesting loose change, then you've probably witnessed a "RAG raid", one of hundreds of activities that students get involved with to raise money for their "RAG" (or "raising and giving") committees.

It is estimated that these student-run university organisations raised between £6m and £9m for charity last year. While for some people the term RAG still summons up scenes of drunken students causing havoc around university towns, today's bright young things insist that is very much an outdated view.

Student RAGs have been around since the 19th century, with medical students originally being the most enthusiastic supporters. Traditionally, universities held their own RAG weeks, which saw various fundraising activities take place over seven days, and produced RAG mags, often rude and humorous booklets.

But RAG activity has evolved over the years. Nowadays, it is much bigger business and fundraising usually goes on throughout the entire academic year. "The idea of a RAG week has sort of been inherited but it's no longer the extent of our activity," says Archie Dallas, who looks after the RAG at Durham University. "There are still some smaller university committees who might raise a couple of thousand pounds a year for charity so they will focus on a week. But bigger ones like us or Loughborough or Nottingham run throughout the entire year and include international expeditions and huge events, but we keep our RAG week out of tradition."

Sarah Musgrave, head of RAG at Loughborough University, which last year raised a staggering £1.2m for charity, agrees that keeping a RAG week is important for many students. "If I turned around and cancelled RAG week there would be uproar, even though RAG events take place throughout the year. Now RAG weeks are primarily organised to create awareness of charity and fundraising at the university and to showcase all of the fantastic opportunities available to get involved with," she says.

Each university decides where its money goes, with thousands of charities – both national and international – benefiting each year. Some, such as Sheffield University, prefer to keep things local. "Last year we raised £202,400 and the students voted to give 85 per cent of that to local charities," Emma Damian-Grint, a community fundraiser at Sheffield University RAG, says.

So what else do the students do to raise money? One of the most popular activities is called Jailbreak, for which you give students 36 hours to get as far away from their university as possible. They are not allowed to spend any money on transport, instead merely rely on their powers of persuasion. By hitchhiking and blagging, students get sponsored depending on how far they manage to get. While it is usually considered an enormous triumph to reach mainland Europe, Dallas shares a story of two Durham students who ended up in Sydney, Australia, texting their location back to the organisers three minutes before the deadline. It transpired that they had guessed the email address of Richard Branson, who was impressed enough with their initiative to offer them return flights. Jailbreaks can earn a huge amount of money; Cambridge RAG alone made £40,000 last year with 121 teams taking part.

Other ways to raise money include blind dates, throwing parties, sponsored skydives and mountain climbs, firework displays, and assault courses. The general message seems to be that whatever it is you want to do to raise money, if someone will sponsor you, then go for it. Theodore Willison-Parry, president of Guy's, King's and St Thomas' Hospitals RAG at King's College London (which is celebrating its 100th RAG anniversary this year), says that people will go to extraordinary lengths to raise money.

"One of the more unusual things we have this year is a student getting a tattoo of the hospital crest," he says. "Hopefully that will raise about £1,000."

Universities can get quite competitive about how much money they raise and committees are constantly stealing ideas from each other and students look for increasingly crazy ideas to impress their peers, as well as other universities.

Of course, RAG activity isn't without its detractors. Some believe that RAG promotes excessive drinking, a complaint most prominent in smaller university towns. Others dislike being pestered for money from the ever-present RAG raiders.

However, it is certain that RAG activity was far more out of control in the past. Dr Phil Hammond, a general practitioner and comedian, recalls that his RAG week in the 1980s understandably rubbed people up the wrong way: "St Thomas's Hospital used to have a 'hit squad'. You would donate money for the person – from mighty professor to irritating fresher – that you would most like to see 'hit'. The poor sod attracting the most money each day of RAG week would be aggressively ambushed and covered in shaving foam on paper plates by a team in theatre greens and masks. Generally, the people hit were taken completely unawares and often shocked and very angry. If the victim was quite senior and the attacker was unmasked, it could have a serious affect on their career. I left St Thomas's with a reference that said, 'this student refuses to take medicine seriously and does not deserve a house job'. There is no harmless fun in a hierarchy."

Sadly, there is still the odd horror story that tarnishes the good work of others. Last year 30 students were arrested in Galway, Ireland, after police received numerous complaints of property being damaged, residents being intimidated and drunk and disorderly behaviour during NUI Galway's RAG week. Organisers insist that this sort of behaviour is rare and student unions now monitor events closely so the chance of them spiralling out of control is slim. Punishment is also severe for those who step out of line.

"I think the general public has quite an outdated view of RAG," Dallas says. "Back in the Sixties and Seventies, it was just about getting drunk, having fun and being rowdy, whereas now it's a lot more professional. Many even have a no-alcohol policy at events."

Some universities don't even call their fundraising activity RAG anymore because of the negative connotations associated with the word. Durham now refers to its fundraising as Durham University Charity Committee (or Duck) because back in the Eighties some students caused a big commotion after they broke into the prison and left a note on the prison governor's desk. It's better PR to call themselves something else now.

Still, some unruly participants and a somewhat troublesome history should not take away from the excellent work that so many students do. Last year a National Student Fundraising Association (NaSFA) was even established between the universities.

"A group of RAGs set it up together to support each other and to share ideas, good practice, even our mistakes," Dallas says. "Hopefully a small increase in each RAG will mean millions and millions extra for charity."

Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistants...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?