The ailing university, which has been in intensive care for the past few years, is now set to become a testbed for widening participation through the introduction of two-year foundation degrees in local colleges.
On his appointment, Sir William made clear that he is expecting to be a hands-on chancellor and not just a ceremonial figurehead. He will provide strategic advice, guidance and support to the governors and vice-chancellor Professor Ken Barker.
"He will introduce the work of the university to key figures in government, business and the professions,"' Professor Barker said. "He will also familiarise himself with the work and achievements of staff and students."
Sir William said he had been struck by "the determination of the vice-chancellor and staff to provide a higher-level learning to students that is innovatory and of high quality.
"Their clear sense of purpose bodes well for the future and the distinctive role the university can play both regionally and nationally. I look forward to playing my part in helping them achieve their commendable goals and vision."
The university has already received pound;1m of Government funding to develop foundation degrees and graduate apprenticeships, working with local colleges and Ealing local education authority.
Sir William begins his new job immediately even though he is still part-time chairman of the Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and does not step down from being principal of the London Institute until September.
But Professor Barker made it clear that Sir William's "enormous expertise" in higher and further education policy and funding made his contribution especially valuable. He was formerly chief executive of the Inner London Education Authority, and then of the polytechnics and FE funding councils.
"With Sir William at the helm we intend to develop a whole new range of products and markets," he said.