Professor Nixon, currently deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of Tasmania, will succeed Sir Richard Barnett, who is set to retire at the end of March after a nine-year term.
Previously, Professor Nixon, a computer scientist, was vice-principal of the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at University College Dublin.
He said he was “delighted” to be appointed vice-chancellor of a university “that combines such strong local roots with impressive international reach”.
“Ulster University is uniquely placed to innovate, create and collaborate in ways that support the most inspiring student experience while also influencing policy and practice through pioneering research,” he said. “This success is built on strong engagement with the local communities in which it is based.”
Professor Nixon has held academic posts at the University of Strathclyde and Manchester Metropolitan University, and also spent three years as the academic director of the independent living and digital health groups at American corporation Intel.
He will move to Northern Ireland at a challenging time for higher education in the province, with Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast planning to cut student numbers by a total of 1,100 in response to funding cuts. Some 650 jobs are at risk across the two institutions.
Professor Nixon said he would work with the Stormont executive “to ensure that our higher education sector in Northern Ireland continues to fulfil the ambitions of young people and contributes to economic growth”.
The chair of Ulster’s university council, Gerry Mallon, said Professor Nixon would lead the institution “into a new era”.
“Paddy Nixon brings skill, perspective and leadership that will be invaluable to the university in this next exciting phase of its development,” he said.
Professor Nixon will take up his post at the start of July. Following the departure of Sir Richard, who received his knighthood in this year’s New Year Honours list, the post of acting vice-chancellor will be held by Alastair Adair, currently the pro vice-chancellor (development).