The former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), who is in hiding in Russia, is standing against cyclist Graeme Obree, writer Alan Bissett and clergyman Kelvin Holdworth.

The group said Snowden's candidacy is an "opportunity to show our gratitude to a brave whistleblower, and thus to all other whistleblowers".

"All nominees have personally agreed to take part in the election" of the new rector on February 17 and 18, the university said in a statement.

The principal function of the Rector is to represent the interests of students, and the choice of Rector is entirely in the hands of students of the University and associated colleges.

Previous holders include Winnie Mandela and Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. The current holder is former Liberal Democrat party leader Charles Kennedy.

History of political heavyweights

Two renowned rectors prior to 1820 were Adam Smith, the author of the Wealth of Nations and Edmund Burke, the orator and political philosopher.

Glasgow’s tradition right up to 1974 was the political rector, the elected politicians including 11 Prime Ministers, from Sir Robert Peel to Stanley Baldwin via Disraeli and Gladstone.

Other rectors during the 20th century have included the President of France, Raymond Poincaré, during the First World War; Compton Mackenzie, author and Scottish Nationalist and the Rev Dick Sheppard, pacifist, in the 1930s; Sir John Boyd Orr, nutritionist in 1945; Albert Luthuli, anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel peace prize winner in 1962; The Rev George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community in 1968; and Jimmy Reid, Communist shop steward in 1971.

Snowden received temporary asylum in Russia in August - a move that infuriated the United States - and is believed to be living in the Moscow area.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the New Yorker published on Tuesday Snowden rejected suggestions he was a Russian spy, saying he acted alone in exposing US surveillance programmes.

(VoR, AFP)