Caroline Neville, principal of Norwich City College, replaces a seasoned Whitehall administrator as the new director of policy and development at the Learning and Skills Council.
The move will help to alleviate growing concern that colleges are under-represented in the LSC at national level as well as in the 47 local offices.
Rob Wye, interim director since February, returns to his previous job as executive director of Northamptonshire's LSC. He had 25 years' experience as a civil servant, including stints at the education department.
Ms Neville's appointment has been welcomed by the Association of Colleges, glad to see one of its own in such a position. "I believe she will bring a great deal of expertise and imagination to the post," said association chief executive David Gibson.
LSC chief John Harwood said: "I'm delighted to welcome Caroline to the team ... I should like to express my admiration for the sterling work Rob Wye has undertaken as interim director."
Mr Wye took over as acting director in February with the departure of Geoff Hall, who left to become deputy director of New College Nottingham.
He said: "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here and am now looking forward to getting back into the front line... I would like to wish Caroline every success in her new role."
The job involves building the adult, youth and workforce development policies and programmes to cut drop-out rates and raise attainment levels. Ms Neville will lead a team of 60 staff working in three areas - young people, adults and workforce development.
She will also act as an adviser to the LSC's adult and youth committees.
Ms Neville said: "We need to get the message across about lifelong learning. That means better connections between the players on the ground - for instance, colleges talking more to employers."