The Scottish Funding Council has come under fire after overhauling the way large sums of money are allocated for knowledge-transfer and capital projects.
The SFC's new investment committee, launched in December, will allocate sums of up to £15 million to universities through the council's Horizon Fund and other funding streams. But it has been accused of cronyism and opaqueness by sector representatives after it emerged that funding decisions will be made by just six members.
The committee is chaired by John McClelland, chairman of the SFC, and has five other members including Ian Adam, chair of the SFC's audit and compliance committee.
Both Universities Scotland, which represents Scottish principals, and the University and College Union have criticised the group's make-up.
Lesley McIntosh, president of UCU Scotland, said there were already concerns that the fund, which supports knowledge-exchange projects and is controlled by the committee, would be used for "pet projects of the council on a grand scale. The proposed make-up and remit of the investment committee serves only to increase that concern, as projects of up to £15 million are decided by just six people," she said.
"Decisions on future Horizon funding should be made in consultation with the whole sector."
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said that principals had "not yet been assured that there will be a transparent and robust process for dealing with decisions about millions of pounds of public money".
The involvement of Universities Scotland in the row suggests that Scottish universities are united on the issue, and Times Higher Education understands that they are willing to consider further action if the committee continues in its current form.
The dispute follows the recent withdrawal of an SFC consultation on plans to change the way funding for knowledge exchange is allocated after dissent among universities. The consultation is now expected to be reissued with only minor changes.