British statistician Norma Reid has swept aside local contenders to win selection as head of South Africa's largest university, the University of the Wi****ersrand.
Professor Reid, also known as Lady Birley through her marriage to retired University of Ulster vice-chancellor Sir Derek Birley, will become the first female and the fourth foreigner to head the 80-year-old institution, which has 18,000 students and is one of South Africa's top research universities.
She is currently deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Plymouth.
The university was plagued with uncertainty in the mid-1990s when the search for a new vice-chancellor dragged on for more than two years.
An appointment was made in 1996, but the vice-chancellor designate resigned on health grounds just 12 days before he was due to take up the post.
Northern Ireland-born Professor Reid, 48, said the five-year job was "a dream come true". She will move to Johannesburg later this year.
Professor Reid had never been to South Africa but became fascinated by the anti-apartheid struggle during her student activist days.
During five days of lectures and meetings with members of senate, students, unions and management, she impressed the Wits community with her ability to get straight to the heart of complex local problems and to suggest creative solutions.
Other candidates were Wits deputy vice-chancellor Leila Patel, and the vice-chancellor of Zimbabwe Open University, Peter Dzvimbo.