THE First Minister has led the tributes to one of Glasgow Caledonian University's most prominent professors who has died following a battle with cancer.

Alex Salmond praised the economist Ailsa McKay, 50, who died on Wednesday morning, hailing her "astonishing contribution" in the campaign for gender equality.

He said: "Ailsa, as we all know, was a leading voice in campaigning for gender equality, not simply through her work, but as a founding member of the Scottish Women's Budget Group.

"This week, as we look forward to International Women's Day, above all I think it is important that we note her astonishing contribution as a feminist economist."

Colleagues of the academic, described as a fierce champion of women's rights, were left shocked by her sudden passing. Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, delivered the news to staff.

She said: "Ailsa became a role model and a feisty one at that, and was justly proud of the part she played in shifting the University's culture. Now a third of our professors are women.

"In her far too early death, Scotland has lost an important force for good, the University has lost a greatly valued, committed and intellectually vibrant colleague and I have lost a dear friend."

Professor McKay, who leaves behind her husband and two children, was a prominent figure at UK and international level and a Scottish Government adviser on welfare and child care.

Grahame Smith, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) General Secretary, paid tribute to the professor, who had worked with the union's Women's Committee and Close the Gap project.

Mr Smith said: "With the tragically early passing of Professor Ailsa McKay the STUC has lost a great friend, colleague and counsel."

Ann Henderson, Secretary to the STUC Women's Committee, added: "Ailsa regularly reminded us all of the real value of women's work, both paid and unpaid. We will miss her terribly."

Professor McKay was chairwoman and convenor of the European Chapter of IAFFE, the International Association for Feminist Economics. She was also a co-founder of the European Gender Budgeting Network, and a founding member of the Scottish Women's Budget Group. The university has pledged to found a scholarship in Professor McKay's name.