The chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England is to leave to become the next vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham.
David Eastwood, who has been at Hefce since September 2006, will take over when Birmingham's current vice-chancellor Michael Sterling retires next April.
The move is a blow for Hefce, and comes less than halfway through Professor Eastwood's six-year contract.
Professor Eastwood, who is an historian, previously held posts as vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and chief executive of the former Arts and Humanities Research Board. His name had been tentatively raised in connection with the vice-chancellor's vacancy at the University of Oxford, which will be filled by Andrew Hamilton, from Yale University.
The move comes after an extensive search for a replacement for Professor Sterling, and a period of restructuring at the university, where a number of senior positions, including at pro vice-chancellor level, have recently been filled.
Professor Eastwood's departure from Hefce comes two-and-a-half years after he joined, shortly after Hefce lost another senior official, its director for research, innovation and skills Rama Thirunamachandran, who announced in March that he had accepted the position of deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Keele.
Professor Eastwood said the Birmingham job was an "irresistible" opportunity at a "distinguished university in a great city. Its eminent history, financial strength and recent restructuring will enable it to enhance still further its national and international reputation. In a period of change and challenge in the higher education sector, Birmingham will prosper as one of the country's leading universities and will shine as a beacon of excellence in research, teaching and impact."
Professor Sterling, who has been at the helm of the university for almost eight years, has overseen a major reorganisation, which saw 19 schools replaced with five unified academic colleges last year.
Jim Glover, pro chancellor chair of council, described Professor Eastwood as a "prestigious" appointment. He said: "His breadth of experience and vision across the higher education sector proved to be a compelling combination."
Sue Blackwell, a member of Birmingham UCU, said: "We get the impression that the university had a difficult job finding someone who was willing to take on someone else's reorganisation plans."