Open University vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks has resigned after a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
Standing down with immediate effect, he said the university “faces a scale of challenge that is unprecedented”.
The university has suffered a collapse in student numbers and plans to save £100m by cutting courses and staff.
Mr Horrocks was also accused of insulting academic staff by saying they “get away with not teaching”.
The academics union, the UCU, which called for him to go earlier this month, said members were pleased he had listened and resigned.
University bosses paid tribute to him, with pro-chancellor Richard Gillingwater saying Mr Horrocks made an “enormous contribution to securing the future of the Open University”.
The announcement came a few days after the governing body of the university met to discuss academics’ staff’s vote of no confidence.
In his resignation statement, Mr Horrocks – who took up the post three years ago – said he was “ready to move on, having achieved my primary goals at the OU”.
He said: “The OU faces a scale of challenge that is unprecedented.
“The requirement for social justice in education is acute and the demands for new skills are ever present, which means that a great institution like ours is needed more than ever.
“I know that all members of the university will continue to commit themselves to the changes necessary to live up to these opportunities.”
He added that he had given “everything I could” to the cause of part time learning.
Welcoming his resignation, UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: “The Open University is a fantastic institution and Horrocks’s replacement must defend the unique role it plays in our education system and the work of its staff.”
She also called for his plan to cut staff and courses to be axed.
However, the university governing body is expected to continue the bulk of the plans he drew up on changing the university curriculum.
The university is projecting an annual deficit of around £20m and has been badly affected by a severe drop in the number of part-time students in England.
Mr Horrocks had previously worked at the BBC for 33 years, leaving his post as director of the BBC World Service Group in 2014.
The OU was founded in 1969 to offer higher education distance learning to students who often did not fit the traditional undergraduate mould – many were older and studying part-time while working.
There are many more students on a variety of competing distance learning courses nowadays.