EDINBURGH University's new principal Peter Mathieson has been accused of failing to protect academic freedoms and siding with the Chinese authorities during his time as head of Hong Kong University.

Mathieson became the highest-paid figure in Scottish higher education after agreeing a salary package worth almost £400,000 a year.

However, his three-year term in the same post at the University of Hong Kong was dogged by controversy.

He faced student protests in 2017 after he signed a statement that appeared to condemn support for Hong Kong independence as an abuse of freedom of speech.

Green MSP Ross Greer said the remarks showed Mathieson was not a suitable figure to lead Edinburgh University.

The statement from Mathieson at the time read: “We treasure freedom of expression, but we condemn its recent abuses. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities.

"All universities undersigned agree that we do not support Hong Kong independence, which contravenes the basic law.”

Mathieson has claimed that the statement referred to other instances of "hate speech".

Greer, the Scottish Greens education spokesman, said Mathieson's record could tarnish the reputation of Edinburgh University.

He said: “It does beggar belief that one of Scotland’s ancient universities can be led by someone with a questionable record on freedom of speech and who appears to have sided with the Chinese regime rather than his own students.

“Mathieson’s actions in Hong Kong should have raised red flags immediately and disqualified him from the post he now occupies and Edinburgh University must urgently clarify whether they were aware of his record and, if so, why on earth they felt his appointment was justified.

“Given the long-held worldwide concern about these institutes and the Chinese Government, questions must be asked as to whether this appointment has compromised Edinburgh University’s global reputation for academic freedom.”

Mathieson also faced criticism about academic and student freedoms during his time as Vice-Chancellor and President of Hong Kong University.

In a survey of academic staff and senior administrators at the University, 78 per cent of respondents said they strongly disagreed that Mathieson had “effectively protected academic freedom”.

Nearly 80 per cent said they strongly disagreed that he “understands the needs of the students and the staff”.

However, a university spokeswoman insisted that Mathieson was the right person to lead the institution.

The spokesperson said: “The University of Edinburgh has an absolute commitment to supporting freedom of speech on campus.

"Peter Mathieson has a wealth of experience at a senior level in Higher Education and wholly shares and supports our core values.

"We have every confidence that he is the person to lead the University of Edinburgh into an exciting new era."