In a statement today, Robert Gillespie, chair of Durham’s council, said that the university would immediately start searching for a replacement.
Professor Higgins will “relinquish all his executive responsibilities” by the end of September this year, according to the statement.
If the university has not recruited a replacement by the end of September, the deputy vice-chancellor Ray Hudson will take on the role in an acting capacity, it says.
Professor Higgins “will remain as vice-chancellor emeritus until his successor is appointed and a successful handover completed”, the statement from Mr Gillespie explains.
The news comes after controversy over plans backed by Professor Higgins to centralise elements of Durham’s collegiate system, which college heads and student representatives fear would effectively turn them into halls of residence.
However, statements released by Durham from both Mr Gillespie and Professor Higgins repeatedly stress that the decision was a pre-planned one by the vice-chancellor.
“For some months I have been discussing with Robert Gillespie, chair of university council, the timing of my retirement as vice-chancellor and warden,” according to Professor Higgins.
“It has long been my intention to retire by 60 (a landmark I am shortly to reach) from what is, unarguably, an all-consuming role.”
“Announcing my plans now enables a search to begin to recruit my successor and frees me to begin to pursue post-Durham opportunities,” he adds.
“Professor Chris Higgins informed me some months ago of his desire to retire from his role as vice-chancellor and warden of Durham University not later than his 60th birthday in June 2015,” according to Mr Gillespie.
“As vice-chancellor, Chris has driven the university forward over the last 7 years and will leave us well placed to continue to build on our long history of scholarship and learning,” he adds.
During his tenure as vice-chancellor, Durham moved to become a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.
His time has also been marked by the revelation that the university overruled its ethics committee and communications office to accept a £150,000 gift from British American Tobacco in 2010.
The donation set in motion a tussle among the university’s senior management over ethics and conflicts of interest surrounding the gift.