Whistleblower Edward Snowden has accused SNP ministers of “threatening” the autonomy of Scotland’s universities by pursuing controversial changes to the way institutions are governed.
The former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, currently in exile in Russia after leaking details of surveillance programmes carried out by American intelligence, was elected as rector of Glasgow University by students.
Now Mr Snowden has hit out at the Scottish Government’s Higher Education bill, which opponents say could lead to the end of ancient universities electing rectors to chair their governing bodies and champion students’ interests. The bill would standardise the way chairs of university courts are elected.
Critics have said the shake-up would remove the right of democratically elected rectors to chair university courts.
Mr Snowden said the Scottish Government was ignoring the concerns of objectors, which include figures such as former prime minister Gordon Brown – himself a former rector of Edinburgh University.
The former NSA contractor, who was elected in a political gesture by Glasgow students in February 2014, said the SNP government’s changes could remove their democratic rights.
In a posting on social media site Twitter, Mr Snowden said: “Despite objections, UK’s #SNP advancing bill threatening student, university autonomy.”
His intervention came after Mr Brown added his voice to the objections of other past Edinburgh university rectors, including former Liberal leader David Steel, Labour grandee Tam Dalyell and author Muriel Gray, who expressed “extreme concern” about the bill.
However, the Scottish Government has denied that it plans to abolish rectors.
A government spokeswoman said: “The key aim of the Higher Education Governance Bill is to strengthen governance in and enable institutions to embrace greater transparency and openness. It will ensure institutions are more inclusive, enabling every voice on campus to be heard – helping students and staff to be more involved in making decisions.
“Scotland’s universities are autonomous bodies, and modernised governance will only add to their excellent international reputation.”