A SCOTTISH university is facing an international backlash over fears it is planning to axe an acclaimed degree course.

Academics from across the world have spoken out after moves by Stirling University to review the future of religious studies.

Lecturing unions have also gone on the attack accusing the university of trying to close the course "by the back door" without proper consultation.

Critics of the move argue the course is significant because it offers studies in religion and belief not linked to the discipline of Christian theology, as is the case in the ancient Scottish universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

A number of responses to the move have been collated on the website of The Critical Religion Association, an independent professional body for religious scholars.

Cristina Johnston, deputy head of literatures and languages at Stirling University, said: "I am appalled to learn the university is considering closing religion at Stirling with immediate effect, an action that would have a tangible and significant impact not only on Stirling’s external reputation, but also on the student experience at Stirling both at postgraduate and undergraduate level."

Professor Russell McCutcheon, from the religious studies department at the University of Alabama, said: "People internationally are watching this and are rather dismayed..... that a major university can end its students’ ability to engage in the academic study of religion. A truly unfortunate decision."

Professor Christopher Partridge, from the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University, added: "I am writing to you to express my deeply felt concern regarding the future of the study of religion at Stirling University, not only because of the pioneering work done in the department over the last few decades, but also because of the pressing need for the intelligent analysis of religion in the modern world."

And Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: "Closing a department that tackles one of the most crucial subjects in contemporary discourse – the relationship of religion and belief to momentous changes in the global situation – is the opposite of what a modern university that cares about applied knowledge should be doing.

“It is to be hoped that this precipitous decision, which appears to have been taken without any serious consultation, and just a few weeks before it is to be implemented, will be immediately reconsidered."

The proposed closure, which would lead to the loss of up to four jobs, has also angered the UCU union, which represents lecturers and support staff.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said: “We are very concerned about the way the university is going about making these cuts. We believe that the university are closing a degree course without the decision being considered by the academic council or university court.

"This raises serious questions about the robustness of the university’s governance structure and about academic freedom. We are seeking an urgent meeting with the university management and are in close contact with Stirling members as they consider their next steps.”

A university spokesman said: “We are in discussions to secure a sustainable future for religious studies. All current students of religious degree programmes and those starting their studies in September will be able to complete their studies."