The rector of Imperial College London has resigned amid speculation about a clash with his chair of governors - a factor in several similar departures in the sector this year.
Sir Roy Anderson, who had been in the post for just over a year, told staff he was quitting in an email sent on 16 November. In it he says he is resigning to concentrate on research.
Sir Keith O'Nions, director of Imperial's Institute for Security Science and Technology, will take over as acting rector from 1 January 2010. Sir Roy will return to his former role as professor in the university's department of infectious disease epidemiology.
Speculation about the departure has focused on Sir Roy's relationship with the chairman of Imperial's governing council, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and the efforts to preserve the elite universities' research-funding dominance.
Minutes of a council meeting in May record a difference of opinion between Sir Roy and Lord Kerr over how the institution should respond to cuts in public spending.
Sir Roy is recorded as saying that Imperial should argue for cuts to be unequally distributed on the basis that "the research-intensive universities would make a considerable contribution to helping the UK to recover from the recession and should therefore receive a greater degree of protection".
The minutes continue: "The chairman suggested that, rather than setting up a conflict with the new universities and those whose raison d'etre was widening participation, the college should sidestep purely educational issues and ... focus in particular on research and its importance for the UK economy and for jobs."
Minutes of the following board meeting in July state that a briefing note on the issue prepared by Sir Roy was circulated in June, but Lord Kerr complained that this "had taken longer than was ideal", adding that "he hoped that in future such notes would be circulated in a more timely manner".
Sir Roy's exit follows a series of departures by university heads following a breakdown in relations with their boards.
Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of City University London, resigned in July, immediately after a report on the board's effectiveness was presented to the institution's council.
City said the council and the vice-chancellor "had differing views on matters of governance".
Martin Everett, the University of East London's vice-chancellor, was suspended by Jim McKenna, the chair of governors, on charges of poor leadership.
Professor Everett left in February following an investigation by the university.
Simon Lee, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, departed after falling out with Ninian Watt, chairman of the council, over whether or not to raise tuition fees.
Other sudden departures in 2009 included Bill Macmillan, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, who took early retirement, and Stephen Hill, principal of Royal Holloway, University of London, who is being paid his full salary while on a two-year sabbatical.