The former Universities UK president, who led the sector’s representative body between 2011 and 2013, will step down from Bristol in August 2015.
His departure will open up a prestigious job leading the Russell Group institution.
In a message to students sent today, Sir Eric says he will have been in post for 14 years – and be 62-years-old - when he retires.
“I believe it will be the right time for a new leader to take Bristol onto the next stage of its development,” he continues.
“My time at Bristol has been the most enjoyable, challenging and fulfilling of my professional career and I shall miss the role, the university and the staff and students dreadfully…I am fiercely proud of our students and I know that you will continue to be a credit to yourselves and to your university.”
Sir Eric adds that there is “much to do in the next 18 months”.
He concludes: “Meanwhile, the details of the process of finding my successor will be discussed at Senate by the chair of council on Monday the 24th of February and communicated more widely after.”
Sir Eric graduated in medicine from Newcastle University in 1976. He trained as an obstetrician and gynaecologist and worked at both Sheffield and Newcastle universities. In 1991 he was appointed professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Southampton, where he later became head of the School of Medicine and then dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Biological Sciences.
As UUK president at the height of the row over the appointment of Les Ebdon as director of fair access, Sir Eric warned that social prejudice was driving “reactionary” press attacks on post-1992 universities.
Writing in Times Higher Education in 2012, he said: “The journey from my alma mater, Newcastle University, to the vice-chancellorship of the University of Bristol is no less life-transforming than the journey of a student from a house in Redcar where nobody has ever been to university who becomes a family solicitor in Yarm through a law degree at Teesside University.”