The search is still on for someone to fill Whitehall's top higher education job after mandarins rejected two university vice-chancellors for the post.
The Department for Education and Skills is looking for a new director-general for higher education after Sir Alan Wilson stepped down to become master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
Ruth Thompson, director for higher education strategy at the department, has been appointed interim director-general.
Well-placed sources say that Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of Essex University, was one of two university heads interviewed for the job. The identity of the other vice-chancellor is not known.
One senior source, who did not wish to be named, said the decision to pass over the two vice-chancellors signalled that the department was unlikely to appoint an academic to the position when it is filled permanently.
David Melville, vice-chancellor of Kent University, was one of a number of university heads contacted by the department when Sir Alan announced his departure.
"I was approached at the beginning. I told them I was not interested,"
Professor Melville said.
Professor Melville, who steps down as vice-chancellor next September, said that although he turned it down for other reasons, he believed that the director-general's £130,000 salary would be unattractive to some vice-chancellors, many of whom earn more than £150,000 a year.
A DfES spokeswoman said that the department could stretch to more for an exceptional candidate.