In a surprise move announced today, Sir Alan, who has been chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England since April 2009, will take up the Leeds job on 1 October 2013.
Sir Alan’s departure creates an important vacancy at a time when Hefce – which distributes public money to universities and colleges and acts as a “buffer” between the sector and the government - has a crucial role in smoothing the transition into the new fees and funding system.
The government also wants Hefce to take on a new role as a “student champion” under the new system.
In a statement released by Leeds, Sir Alan, a former chief executive of the NHS in England, says: “I am attracted by the university’s heritage, values and distinctive ability to integrate world class research, scholarship and education and I am looking forward to meeting the students and staff at the beginning of the academic year.
“This move is tinged with sadness at leaving Hefce where I have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with ministers, the chair and council members and the most talented and committed group of public servants that I have ever known.”
As Leeds vice-chancellor, Sir Alan will succeed Michael Arthur, who is leaving at the end of August to become University College London provost.
Professor Arthur described Sir Alan as “an outstanding appointment and a stellar figure in the UK higher education sector, who will, I know, work tirelessly to continue to make Leeds a truly world-class university”.
Linda Pollard, Leeds pro-chancellor and chair of council, said: “This is a real coup for Leeds, and a very exciting moment for the institution. Alan has an unrivalled knowledge of the sector, fantastic strategic grip and great wisdom; he shares our ambition for Leeds, and I know that he is the right person to lead the university forward, continuing the momentum we have built up under Michael Arthur.”
David Gray, pro-chancellor elect, said: “Alan will bring to Leeds not only the strategic acumen and leadership talent that is evident throughout his CV but also a rare humanity. It is no surprise that the appointing committee was unanimous in its choice.”
Tim Melville-Ross, Hefce chair, said: “Sir Alan has made an exceptional leadership contribution to Hefce at a time of rapid change, ensuring that the government’s policy and funding reforms for higher education have been implemented effectively and in a way that protects the interests of students, the autonomy of universities, and the wider public interest. He will be greatly missed.”
Sir Alan said in a statement released by Hefce: “I have the greatest respect for the staff at Hefce – their commitment to excellence in higher education, research and knowledge exchange is essential to the future development of the sector and they have given me and the Hefce board unfailing support in recent years.
“Over the next six months I will be working as normal in Bristol and London and intend to play to the final whistle, ensuring an effective handover to my successor. I have particularly enjoyed working with [universities and science minister] David Willetts and Tim Melville-Ross, and have greatly appreciated their support and wise counsel.”
Mr Willetts said: “I am extremely grateful to Sir Alan for his inspiring leadership of the funding council over the last four years. He has successfully guided the sector through significant changes leaving them in a strong position for the future. I wish Sir Alan every success in his new role as vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds.”
Read an analysis by Andy Westwood, chief executive of Guild HE, of Sir Alan Langlands’ stewardship of Hefce through difficult times.