CONTROVERSIAL laws which change the way Scottish universities are governed have been passed despite fierce opposition from the sector.

MSPs backed the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill which aims to make universities more democratic by increasing the influence of students and trade unions.

From now on universities' powerful ruling Courts will have to have trade unions members representing staff as well as student representatives.

And the chair of the Court will be elected by staff and students in future rather than being appointed.

The legislation had proved controversial with university principals and current chairs arguing the changes would interfere with good governance.

The Scottish Government said the decision to pass the Bill would create "more inclusive and transparent universities".

The Scottish Labour Party backed the general principles of the Bill and it was passed by 92 votes to 17 despite opposition from the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives.

A Universities Scotland spokeswoman said: "We don't think the case for electing chairs was made sufficiently and we still have doubts that this will improve good governance."

"Parliament passed some modest amendments, but missed an opportunity to include an exemption clause in the Bill which would have acknowledged the diversity of 18 institutions.

"Instead, we are left with a Bill that takes a rigid and one-size-fits-all approach which is entirely inappropriate and unnecessary."

However, unions said the legislation would ensure universities became more democratic by allowing all staff and students to vote for the chair of their governing body.

UCU Scotland official, Mary Senior, said: "These changes will reconnect the way universities are run with those most affected by decisions – the staff and students – and allow our universities to remain the world leading institutions they are."

The National Union of Students Scotland said it would "go a long way" to address "many of the shortfalls that currently exist" in university governance.

Education Secretary Angela Constance said: "This is an important day for the future of Scotland's world class universities and their students.

"The passing of the Higher Education Governance Bill will ensure greater openness and transparency in the governance of these important and influential institutions.

"Every voice on campus will be heard as part of elections for chairs, or senior lay members, with staff, students and union representatives involved in the whole recruitment and election process. The historic role of rectors in those universities that have them will also continue.

"We have listened closely to stakeholders and interested parties over the course of the bill's passage and made a number of amendments, both to clarify the bill, and to make sure it has maximum impact in improving governance practice."