Scotland's universities and colleges are less democratic and transparent than educational institutions in some former communist countries, according to union leaders.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) held a rally outside the Scottish Parliament urging MSPs to honour their election commitments to review the management of educational institutions.
The unions say recent decisions on funding, course cuts and redundancies made by unelected university governors lack transparency and accountability, and are "removed from reality".
UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: "We have been particularly concerned about the way decisions have been taken in Scotland`s universities about cuts to jobs, cuts to courses, cuts to various services, cuts to departments.
"We feel that they have been taken without adequate consultation, particularly with staff and students at universities.
"The decision making process has lacked transparency, openness and involvement and they’re taken by people who are on inflated salaries and are sometimes removed from reality.
"The principles are appointed by the university courts. While I don`t doubt that some of these people have had distinguished academic careers the trade unions have got a really important role to play for the staff.
"As staff are delivering the service they have a good idea of what can work and what doesn't work."
The UCU has lodged a petition to the Scottish Government petitions committee for an inquiry into the governance of universities.
Jan Culik, senior lecturer at Glasgow University`s school of modern languages, was born in Czechoslovakia and has lived in Scotland for 35 years.
He said: "I have very close contacts with academics in Europe and they are horrified when they hear that we do not elect our principals.
"Funnily enough, I hear this from former communist countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, and also from democratically accountable countries in western Europe as well.
"The counter argument, of course, is that these universities are state owned but Glasgow University, for example, receives lots of money from the public purse.
"As registered charities they shouldn`t be turning themselves into businesses. I think everyone would be happier if senior management were elected."
Penny Gower, president of the EIS-Further Education Lecturers Association, has called on Education Secretary Mike Russell to make reform of college governance a priority.
She said: "Mike Russell talks about the `Balkanisation` of further education, where you`ve got these units that are being run be self-perpetuating unaccountable elites, and that is a real problem.
"If you look at the salaries that principles have been giving to themselves, via the boards of management, they earn more than MSPs.
"The Carnegie College principal who just left was earning £150,000 a year, and that`s public money. The Government is aware of the problem and we are waiting to see what they will do about it."