OUTRAGED students have hit out at university chiefs after their union president was stripped of a vote to choose the institution's next £200,000-a-year vice-chancellor.

Around 120 University of Southampton undergraduates marched in protest wearing symbolic gags then staged a silent sit-in on campus to demonstrate at the loss of voting rights on the institution's highest decision-making body.

University bosses have decided to exclude the Students' Union president from voting on a panel tasked with hiring the replacement for Professor Bill Wakeham, 63, who retires next year. A student representative has previously been given a vote.

Demonstration organiser Tom Constable, who sits on the union council, said: "The vice-chancellor is the most important person in the university. It's really important the president has a vote on the panel which makes that appointment.

"They are there to represent the point of view of the 23,000 students at the university and know what they want."

Mr Constable said the appointment panel was the last committee on which students had voting rights.

Fellow demonstrator Clare Blackwell, a medical student, said: "We are asking why is it that multinationals like BAE systems and HSBC that make record profits are allowed a voice in how the university is run but student representatives are not? A lot of students feel that the university is being run as a business and they do not care what students say."

The sit-in was timed to coincide with the high-level meeting of councillors, investors and vice-chancellors from other universities.

Simon Higman, registrar and chief operating officer, University of Southampton, said the timing of a newly-elected Students' Union president was to blame for the decision.

He said the previous president had been involved in the short listing process but incoming president Alex Tanfield would not be in place until three weeks before the interviews take place in late July.

He added: "We feel it is not appropriate to expect someone who had not been personally involved in the process to take such a pivotal role in the final selection."