A university principal has dismissed Scottish campus campaigns to reduce investment in fossil fuels as "dangerous gesture politics".

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal of Robert Gordon University, attacked students and staff at the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh who encouraged the institutions to divest themselves from fossil fuels.

Green campaigners have branded his remarks 'insulting.'

Mr von Prondzynski has now written to other higher education principals raising concerns about the wider impact of such campaigns.

He also highlights the importance of the oil and gas industry to Scotland and his own university, which runs a number of industry-related courses such as oil and gas engineering, management, accounting and law.

The intervention comes after five senior academics from Glasgow called the university's decision to explore divestment from fossil fuels "vacuous posturing" arguing that alternatives to fossil fuels are not currently available in the quantities required to meet demand.

Mr von Prondzynski said: "I think universities must pursue innovation, and that includes innovation in oil and gas, which will continue to be indispensable for some time.

"Universities will need to be involved in research to improve energy efficiency and cheaper exploration and extraction helps that. Investment policies should also reflect our understanding of what research will benefit society."

Vonnie Sandlan, president of student body NUS Scotland, said it was ironic that Mr von Prondzynski had taken such a stance when he had been an outspoken supporter of the student voice in the past.

She said: "He led an incredibly strong review into university governance which rightly had at its core the need to improve the representation of staff and students in the decision making of their universities.

"It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see him so dismissively write off the strong, successful campaigns we've seen led by staff and students around divestment, which are absolutely part of that democratic engagement in decision making.

"Our institutions should be working to benefit not just their campuses, but wider society as well, and we should expect more from them. None of the reasons for divestment are contentious, and universities should recognise that and take action."

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "There is an honourable history of students bringing these sort of campaigning issues to the attention of their universities which goes back a long way and to call it gesture politics is rather insulting.

"The Edinburgh campaign started four years ago and there has been a lot of engagement and constructive dialogue between the students and while some of it became quite high profile it has been a constructive attempt by students to change policy rather than anything you could call a gesture.

"Robert Gordon University is clearly coming at this from an area of vested interest and trying to dismiss something that is actual very important about society which is that students do care about things and they want to change their institutions for the better."

Glasgow became the first institution in Europe to pledge to withdraw investments from oil companies on environmental grounds after a year-long campaign from students and green campaigners.

It means some £18 million of the university's £130m endowment fund currently invested in companies such as Shell, BP and Chevron will be re-allocated over the next decade - as long as the financial impact was "acceptable".

In May, Edinburgh announced it intended to fully divest from three of the world's biggest fossil fuel producers within six months following a 10-day occupation of its finance department by student protesters.

The university, which has a £298m endowment fund, said it would divest from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands, only where feasible alternative sources of energy exist, and where companies do not invest in low-carbon technologies.