A SCOTTISH university principal has stepped down after a conflict of interest row which had a “damaging” impact on the institution.

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski quit his £278,000 post at Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, after his business partner was appointed to a top role at the institution.

Mr von Prondzynski is director of a company involved in the ownership of a £12 million castle in Ireland which was put up for sale at the end of last year.

His co-director in the company is Professor Gordon McConnell, who was hired by Robert Gordon University last December as vice principal for commercial and regional innovation.

An internal inquiry at the university found that neither Mr von Prondzynski nor Mr McConnell had disclosed their business relationship.

While they were found to have breached the university’s conflict of interest policy, it concluded that it was a “genuine omission or oversight” with no “malicious motive”.

However, the university’s decision prompted another senior academic to quit in protest. Professor Paul Hagan, vice-principal for research, said he could not see how the board had reached the conclusion.

He said at the time: “The deficiencies in the appointment process cannot be repaired retrospectively and I cannot agree with the minimal action the board has decided upon.”

Mr von Prondzynski said: “I have enjoyed steering the university through some exciting and challenging times over more than seven years and I take considerable satisfaction from the continued growth and standing achieved both nationally and internationally during this time.

“The investigation into the alleged conflict of interest regarding the appointment of Gordon McConnell found that the appointment was properly made and that neither Gordon nor I intentionally sought to mislead. There was an oversight on my part, for which I have already taken full responsibility.

“I recognise that the outcome of the investigation has caused division and therefore had a damaging impact on the university’s reputation, which I personally hugely regret. Therefore my main reason for deciding to step down is to allow the university to recover from these events. I am confident it will do so quickly."

Mike Fleming, chair of the university board of governors added: “The way this matter has played out in public has had a damaging impact on the university and has been a testing time for all those involved.

"We respect Ferdinand’s decision, which we know he has taken in the best interests of protecting the university’s well-deserved and hard-won reputation. We would like to thank Ferdinand for his service.”

Mr von Prondzynski will be succeeded by current deputy principal Professor John Harper. The board also announced that Mr Hagan had now withdrawn his resignation.

However, the appointment of Mr Harper provoked an immediate backlash from lecturers.

The University and College Union (UCU) Scotland attacked the “jobs for the boys” approach arguing there should have been a full recruitment process.

Mary Senior, the UCU Scotland official, said: "His former university is shoe-horning in his replacement without any recruitment process.

"It is particularly galling to see this approach at a time when there is considerable debate about the need for more diversity in senior positions in universities and society at large."