A PETITION to save an acclaimed degree course at a Scottish university has attracted over one thousand signatures.

More than 1,100 people have signed the petition calling on Stirling University to reverse moves to axe its religious studies course.

Academics from across the world have already spoken out in defence of the course, while lecturing unions have accused the university of trying to close it "by the back door".

Critics 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.

The UCU lecturing union, which started the petition, called on the management of Stirling University to respond to the concerns.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said: “Over 1000 people have signed our petition supporting these staff and opposing the disbanding of the religion programme at Stirling.

"Senior management at the university ought to listen to these views and, at the very least, take such an important academic decision through the appropriate internal channels, such as academic council and the university’s governing body."

Ms Senior said the lack of consultation highlighted the need for the Scottish Government's proposed current Higher Education Governance Bill, which would introduce trade union members onto university Courts for the first time.

She added: "Decisions to end or change courses should be properly scrutinised in a transparent manner by the university community and governors, not taken behind the scenes in backroom deals."

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."

Fears over the future of the course have already sparked concerned responses from academics around the world.

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."