A NEW draft code of conduct to improve the governance of Scottish universities has been attacked as weak and vague.

The criticism comes after the code was published by a steering group of experts chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin.

The draft code makes a number of key recommendations on the appointment and pay of university principals.

It also recommends changes to the way the chairs of university ruling courts are appointed.

However, students and lecturers said it did not go far enough in involving them in key decisions and called for the Scottish Government to reject it.

Gordon Watson, president of the UCU Scotland lecturers' union, said: "This is a code written by managers for managers.

"Despite claims of improved transparency and greater openness, the code simply re-states principles that already apply and there is little in this report that is new or progressive."

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, which represents students, added: "We always said having university chairs making up their own code on governance would risk a weak code.

"It now seems this risk has been realised. What this code seems to do is provide universities with all of the autonomy without any increase in responsibility."

The draft code was drawn up in the wake of a review of university governance chaired by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal of Robert Gordon University.

The original review was announced by Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, after concerns over management of universities in Scotland.

In particular, lecturers at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow had been highly critical of the way their institutions consulted on proposed cuts to courses and jobs.

There has also been long-running concern over the spiralling salaries of principals and their management teams.

The von Prondzynski review suggested for the first time there should be staff and student involvement in the appointment, appraisal and salary setting of principals.

It also called for the election of chairs of the governing bodies of universities and greater involvement of students, academics and trade unions.

The draft code agreed that "both the appointment and the monitoring of performance of the principal shall include consultation with staff and student members of the governing body". But it said principal pay should be decided by a remuneration committee with no mention of staff or students.

It also ruled out the election of chairs of ruling courts and made no recommendations on the make-up of governing bodies, arguing the issue is part of university statutes.

Meanwhile, John Henderson, chief executive of umbrella body Colleges Scotland, called for a similar code in the further education sector.

"Scottish colleges will contribute £1.2 billion to the Scottish economy by 2020, serving almost 300,000 students every year, responding quickly to the needs of the national and local economies.

"It is essential the sector retains this flexibility, and a code of governance would be a more effective way to balance accountability with that autonomy."