Sir Christopher, who is currently vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, will take charge of the Russell Group university in October, it was announced on 20 March.
He succeeds Don Nutbeam, who announced last July that he was to retire from Southampton, which he has led since 2009.
Sir Christopher, who was knighted in 2012 for his services to higher education and engineering, said he was delighted to join a university with “academic strength in depth across a wide range of disciplines, with real international reach and playing such an important role nationally and regionally”.
He has led the University of Surrey since 2005 and is also a member of the prime minister’s advisory Council for Science and Technology. He is also the chair of the Queen Elizabeth II Prize Committee – the “Nobel Prize” of engineering – and sits on the governing body of Innovate UK.
His two-year term as president of Universities UK will end in July, when he will be succeeded by Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent.
He has been vocal during his presidency on a number of issues, including Labour’s plans to reduce undergraduate tuition fees to £6,000 a year and the government’s counter-terrorism and security bill.
Gill Rider, chair of council at Southampton, described Sir Christopher as the “perfect choice” to lead the university.
His extensive experience will provide the “strong leadership necessary to build on the University of Southampton’s position as one of the UK’s top universities for research, education and enterprise”, she added.