University principals have come under fire from Scotland's foremost historian for failing to take a sufficiently tough political stance over Brexit.

The accusation from Sir Tom Devine, Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University, follows a joint statement backed by key institutions from across Scottish higher education including Universities Scotland, which represents principals.

The campaign seeks to reverse the “major risks” posed to the university sector by leaving the EU, but does not call for Brexit to be halted, with Universities Scotland stating that they would remain politically neutral in the event of another referendum.

Sir Tom told a summit on Brexit at Glasgow University: "I find it astonishing and contradictory that, after the overtly political language in the joint statement, that if we are going to go into a real end game Universities Scotland will stand on the sidelines in what will be an epic battle for the future of this nation.

"If you look at the experience of the higher education sector in the UK since Brexit it is making the right noises, but it is fractured. What I would like to see would be an even broader grand alliance throughout the UK because Scotland will not stop this alone."

Sir Tom also called for the Scottish Government to be more explicit about how it intends to support universities in future to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit.

Professor Andrea Nolan, principal of Edinburgh Napier University and chair of Universities Scotland, defended its decision not to take a more political stance.

She said: "As an organisation we were politically neutral during the referendum and we remain politically neutral because we host 45,000 members of staff who all have different views.

"It is up to people to express their views to their local politicians, but what we are arguing for is what we need for a successful higher education given the disaster that we will face with Brexit.

"We are clear on the impact and what we need, but we are aware that our university communities will have a range of different views, hence the politically neutral stance that we always take."

Yesterday, the Scottish Government joined with higher education institutions and trade unions in a call to protect colleges and universities after Brexit.

The joint statement said leaving the EU would create "major issues" for higher education in Scotland, significantly impacting staff and students.