Higher education is to be given its own directorate within the Department for Education and Skills for the first time to help the sector to "punch its weight" in Whitehall.
Advertisements will appear in The THES within the next fortnight for a director-general on a six-figure salary to head the new unit. The successful candidate will be a member of the seven-strong board that runs the department.
David Normington, DFES permanent secretary, said: "In the light of the white paper, we felt we needed a senior member of the department solely devoted to higher education. The aim is for the new director-general to play a leadership role within government as well as in the department."
The post will be open to competition among civil servants and outsiders, but the job specification is expected to point to recent experience in higher education. The equivalent positions for schools and lifelong learning went to a local authority chief executive and a college principal.
Mr Normington said: "I don't want to close off any options, but... the two people I have recruited recently to senior positions have had a huge impact on the department. We need someone who understands how to convert a strategy into a deliverable package, whom people in higher education will listen to and who will listen to them."
He added: "I might not be able to afford a vice-chancellor, but if one is interested and willing to become a civil servant, I would be really pleased. I think it is more likely to attract someone who is a prospective vice-chancellor."
Since the establishment of directorates, higher education has been subsumed into lifelong learning. There have been complaints that the DFES is dominated by schools, but Mr Normington said the new appointment would ensure that the sector was able to "punch its weight".