Mr Rammell, who served as a higher education minister between 2005 and 2008, will begin his Bedfordshire role in August.
He succeeds Les Ebdon, who is stepping down after being appointed by the government as director of fair access – an appointment that was fiercely opposed by some Conservative MPs and sections of the national press.
Mr Rammell said: “I am well acquainted with the university and have watched its reputation grow over recent years.
“The university excels at widening participation, transforming lives and communities. I look forward to building on its success.”
Mr Rammell is currently deputy vice-chancellor of Plymouth University. Until 2010, he was MP for Harlow, where he oversaw the introduction of increased tuition fees under Tony Blair’s government.
He graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in French before becoming president of its students’ union. He later worked at the National Union of Students.
“Governors were very impressed with Bill’s experience and expertise and, in particular, his commitment to improving further the staff and student experience at Bedfordshire,” said Alan Cook, chairman of the university’s board of governors.