Sir Graeme, who has also served as vice-chancellor of the universities of Glasgow and Liverpool, will take on the role on a three-month interim contract and oversee the assessment of access agreements submitted by institutions seeking to charge tuition fees of more than £6,000 from 2012-13.
Sir Martin said he had “complete confidence” in the ability of Sir Graeme to “hit the ground running”.
“Clearly, I regret being out of action at this important juncture, but I heartily welcome Sir Graeme as my replacement,” he said.
Besides his vice-chancellorships, Sir Graeme was also the first chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England as it took over the responsibility for allocating grants from the Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.
Others in the sector praised Sir Martin, who has led the Office for Fair Access since it was set up in 2004, for his work in recent months.
In particular, his guidance on how to form access agreements as political arguments raged over the extent of his legal powers was singled out for praise.
“Sir Martin has been superb…in his ability to manage the government’s expectations while encouraging universities to play their reasonable part in widening participation and fair access,” said Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, said: “Sir Martin has successfully established the role of director for fair access and in doing so has promoted fair access within every university. His contribution to widening participation and helping drive social mobility in this country should not be underestimated. I wish him and his family all the very best at this challenging time.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the government’s intention was to recruit a new director for fair access once Offa’s future role had been clarified following the publication of the White Paper on higher education.