THE new holder of one of the most important posts in the academic world has finally been chosen - but their identity remained shrouded in secrecy last night.

A long-awaited announcement of the new chancellor of Durham University is to be made today, following the death of Sir Peter Ustinov last year.

The identity of the candidate to be the university's ceremonial figurehead last night remained a closely-guarded secret, known to only a handful of senior officials.

It will be put to a vote of the university's senate and council today, then will immediately go to the university's convocation - the body which represents all graduates, heads of colleges and academic staff - to be ratified.

The successful candidate, expected to be a high-profile figure known outside the academic world, will then be unveiled.

The university confirmed that the new chancellor will attend a Press conference tomorrow at Dunelm House, in New Elvet, along with vice-chancellor Sir Kenneth Calman and student union president Tom Page.

In total, 518 different names were put forward for the new post, with 1,800 votes cast by staff, students and graduates.

Although some were highly unlikely to make it to the shortlist - including rock wild man Ozzy Osbourne - Bill Clinton emerged as an early favourite for the post.

However, the prospect of the former US President handing out degrees at Durham Cathedral appeared to diminish with yesterday's announcement that the successful candidate would visit the university tomorrow.

Mr Clinton was released from hospital on March 14 after chest surgery and was told by doctors to spend four to six weeks recuperating at his home in Chappaqua, New York State.

The successful candidate will joining a celebrated group, including prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn and most recently, Sir Peter, who died in March last year after holding the post for 12 years.

The new chancellor will be the first since the post was created in 1909 to hold a fixed term of office.