Sir David, who has led Reading since 2012, will join Sunderland in the autumn, following the departure of Shirley Atkinson later this month.
A former director of education and libraries at Newcastle City Council, Sir David was England’s chief inspector of schools between 2002 and 2006, and permanent secretary at the Department of Education between 2006 and 2012.
At Reading, Sir David oversaw significant growth in student numbers, research activity and income. His time there has not been without controversy, however, with staff overwhelmingly passing a vote of no confidence in 2016 in opposition to cost-cutting plans that included a reorganisation of support staff.
Sir David, a former primary school headteacher, said that he was “thrilled and honoured” to join Sunderland “at such an exciting time in its development”.
“I have always had the greatest respect for the university’s inclusive ethos and how it delivers opportunities and personalised support for students from all walks of life,” he said.
“I know that Sunderland is highly regarded as an anchor institution in the region, committed to delivering excellence in teaching and research. I am particularly excited about the prospect of working with students, staff and partners to deliver a flexible, relevant academic curriculum and a compelling research agenda.”