FUNDING chiefs have been urged to investigate the “jobs for the boys” appointment of a new Scottish university principal.

The move by the UCU Scotland lecturers union comes after Professor John Harper was made principal of Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen.

Mr Harper was appointed after the former principal unexpectedly stepped down following a conflict of interest row.

In a letter to Mike Cantlay, chair of the Scottish Funding Council, the UCU said the appointment breached the code of good governance for Scottish higher education.

The letter, from Mary Senior, the union’s Scotland official, said: “I want to raise with you our deep concerns about the apparent lack of any open appointment process.

“We are concerned that this seemingly overnight elevation of one of the

vice principals to the position on a permanent basis does not sit well with good governance nor with equal opportunities principles.

“We want to be proud of our universities, but misguided decisions like this one damage that reputation and do nothing to give staff and students confidence in those leading our institutions. We would ask for your views and intervention on this matter.”

The Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance states that

governing bodies are expected to ensure that the appointment process for principals “enables student, staff and trade union input to be taken into account”.

Ms Senior said she was not aware of an open appointment process having been conducted with student, staff or trade union input.

And she said the importance of following the correct procedure was to introduce greater diversity into senior university management - which is dominated by white males.

She added: “We cannot see how automatically promoting one white male vice-principal, is open, transparent or fair in any sense.

“It denies a whole range of other individuals – women and men – the opportunity to apply for this highly paid, important leadership role.”

However, Mike Fleming, chair of the university’s board of governors, denied there had been any breach of the code.

In a message to staff he said: “I would like to reassure you that the appointment was in line with the university’s procedures and complies with the code of good governance.

“There was full involvement of the board in the appointment and the governors were unanimous in their decision to ask John to step up to the role of principal.”

Mr Fleming said the board was aware that normal practice was to go through a competitive process, but added: “Given this exceptional set of circumstances the board is sure effective governance was best served on this occasion with the decisive action to appoint John.”

Former principal Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski quit his £278,000 post at the university this week after his business partner was appointed to a top role at the institution.

An internal inquiry found Mr von Prondzynski had not disclosed their business relationship.