ACADEMICS have called for "secretive" committees that decide the pay of Scottish university principals to be opened up to public scrutiny.

The calls from the UCU Scotland union are contained in a submission to Scottish Government consultation on improvements to the governance of higher education institutions.

Earlier this week, The Herald revealed a handful of university principals pocketed inflation-busting pay rises and bonuses despite current public spending constraints and repeated calls for them to show restraint.

The UCU submission to the Higher Education Governance Bill calls for proposals to make the recruitment, appraisal and remuneration of university principals and their senior management teams "more transparent".

It states: "In recent years, UCU has submitted requests to universities requesting minutes from the remuneration committees that discussed their principal's pay awards.

"Only a third responded, with two of them sending redacted minutes with little or no information on it and only two mentioning any detail of the pay award."

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said: "This Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to sort out transparency in Scotland's universities. We need a far better and more representative mix of people sat at the top table in our institutions and we need to be able to scrutinise senior pay.

"We are supportive of much that the consultation contains, but want to see politicians grasp this opportunity and go further."

The attack comes after The Herald revealed a handful of university principals accepting above-inflation pay increases in 2013/14 despite cuts in public funding.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal of Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, is now by far the highest paid principal in Scotland after taking a seven per cent increase, which takes his annual salary to £334,000 a year.

The biggest increase in salary was the eight per cent awarded to Professor Stephen Chapman, the principal of Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, whose pay increased to £198,000.

And Professor Louise Richardson, the principal of St Andrews University, in Fife, also came under fire after pocketing a one off bonus of £30,000 - although the university highlighted the fact she has not had a pay rise for several years and has also donated £120,000 to a scholarship fund.

The SNP said the size of pay increases awarded to some university leaders were unacceptable and called for future restraint.

However, Universities Scotland, which represents principals, argued many university leaders had refused to accept pay rises.