SCOTTISH universities have received hundreds of millions of pounds in fees from students in countries with “utterly appalling” human rights records.

Higher education institutions have received nearly £400m from Chinese scholars in the last three years and around £30m from students in Saudi Arabia, which is regarded by critics as an international pariah.

Russians have ploughed in another £10m to universities, which compete in a tough market for international students.

One critic believes the sums raise questions about universities entering into partnerships with the autocracies.

However, a spokesperson for Universities Scotland, which represents higher education institutions, said: “Universities educate, inform, create knowledge, encourage rational debate and challenge received wisdom. Every country can benefit from graduates who have developed these attributes.”

Saudi Arabia, an oil rich dictatorship, was widely condemned last year over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The columnist was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered and dismembered by a hit squad.

One of the suspects is Dr Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a forensic pathologist who specialises in autopsies, and who allegedly used his skills to dismember Khashoggi.

A number of media outlets, including the Herald, reported that he used to study at Glasgow University, prompting rector Aamer Anwar to urge the institution to “break all links” with the Kingdom.

Other than the Khashoggi scandal, a recent report by Amnesty International stated that Saudi Arabia “severely” restricts freedom of expression, association and assembly. Its bombing of Yemen has also been condemned.

The Herald on Sunday asked universities how much they had received in tuition fees - both undergraduate and postgraduate - from students from Saudi Arabia and other despotic regimes.

Twelve institutions have taken in over £30m since 2015 from Saudi students, with Glasgow University leading the way on £8.4m.

Glasgow’s website states: “The university has a long-established relationship with Saudi Arabia and we have been welcoming students here for many decades.”

In second place is Strathclyde University, which received over £7m from students from the same country.

Strathclyde University’s website states: “Strathclyde has a long history of welcoming students from Saudi Arabia.”

Edinburgh's total stands at around £3.2m. The same university accepted around £8m from a foundation created by Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, to establish an Islamic study centre.

However, Scottish universities have received a far larger sum, nearly £386m, from Chinese students. Edinburgh benefited to the tune of £153m over three years, while Glasgow took in £131.6m.

According to the latest Amnesty report, China continues to draft new laws that present “serious threats to human rights”.

The same report stated that the regime has strict controls on internet use, represses religious activities and attacks freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

Ten universities received over £12m in fees from Russia-based students, with Edinburgh again topping the fee list.

Vladimir Putin’s autocratic leadership has been marked by crackdowns on opposition politicians, as well as assassinations in the UK. Putin critics have long argued that regime-friendly oligarchs have spent their wealth in countries such as the UK.

There is no suggestion that students should be blamed for the actions of their rules, but campaigners believe the amount of money involved raises wider questions.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "International students shouldn't be punished for the atrocities and abuses of their governments, nor should they be treated as a revenue stream for underfunded universities.

“However, if the universities themselves are entering into official government partnerships or offering support to the regimes then questions need to be asked.

“The Chinese, Russian and Saudi dictatorships all have utterly appalling human rights records, and Scottish universities should ensure they aren't doing anything that could indicate support for them or legitimise them."

MSP Ross Greer, the Scottish Greens education spokesperson said: “There is a massive difference between placing sanctions on those directly associated with a criminal regime and preventing all students from say Saudi Arabia from studying here.

“What we cannot allow is dependence on income from these students turning into institutional tolerance for oppressive regimes. The worrying trend towards closer links with the Chinese government for example, through its Confucius propaganda programme, should concern everyone in Scotland."