Professor White, van Eck professor of engineering at Cambridge and master of Jesus College, Cambridge, will take up the post next April.
His appointment comes after his predecessor, Dame Glynis Breakwell, announced her retirement amid criticism over her remuneration. Her £468,000 pay package made her the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor.
Bath said that Professor White would be paid a salary of £266,000, plus an additional £37,000 in lieu of pension contributions – roughly in line with the UK average, according to Times Higher Education’s latest executive pay survey.
The university added that Professor White would be responsible for funding his own housing and car, in contrast to some of the perks enjoyed by Dame Glynis.
Professor White, an expert in optoelectronics and optical communications, was professor of physics at Bath between 1990 and 1996, when he joined the University of Bristol. He returned to Cambridge, where he had completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies, and held his first academic appointments, in 2001.
Professor White said that Bath was “a university community I care deeply about, having worked here at an early and very significant stage in my academic career”.
“The founding vision of Bath, that of providing a rigorous and relevant education to students, and serving society through world-class research, resonates profoundly with me,” he said. “I firmly believe that Bath can build on its considerable success to date, maintaining quality and enhancing innovation.”
Professor White will face the task of rebuilding relations between staff and senior management at Bath, which were damaged by the row over Dame Glynis’ remuneration.
The university faced further criticism when Dame Glynis’ departure was announced, when it emerged that, after stepping down in August 2018, she would receive her full salary during a semester-long sabbatical ahead of her retirement next February. She will also have a £31,000 car loan written off.
Thomas Sheppard, chair of Bath’s council, said that Professor White’s “exceptional academic record and demonstrable excellence across teaching, research, innovation and high-level university administration will be of great importance for the university in this very challenging time for the sector”.
“I also believe that his values and collaborative leadership approach will make him the perfect candidate to work with the entire university community and its local, national and international stakeholders,” Mr Sheppard said.
Bath is currently being led by interim vice-chancellor Bernie Morley, the institution’s deputy vice-chancellor and provost.