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Professor Stephen Toope, president of UBC poses in Montreal, October 25, 2011. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Stephen Toope, the president of the University of British Columbia, will leave the top job at the end of June, 2014, two years before his second five-year term is scheduled to end.

Dr. Toope, who took the helm at UBC in 2006, said he spent "a few months" considering the decision, which comes from a desire to return to his academic pursuits in international law and international relations.

He has emerged as a leading voice in Canadian higher education, currently chairing the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and was rumoured to be a desirable candidate for the president and principal's jobs at the University of Toronto and McGill University, both of which recently announced new leaders. But he had made it clear he wasn't interested in either position, and now says conclusively his days as a university president will be over next year.

"I've been thinking for a little while what I would like to do with the rest of my life, when I grow up, so to speak," said the 55-year-old, who was last a full-time professor more than a decade ago. "I wanted to make sure that I gave myself some time to really focus on my areas of professional and academic interest."

Dr. Toope insists he's "not feeling burnt out at all" after seven years as president, and praised "the spirit" of UBC, but described the job as "relentless." He started to feel the pull of having "more time to interact with students than I currently do," and looks forward to having more freedom to speak his mind on major issues of the day when he no longer represents the University.

The timing of the announcement coincides with a board of governors meeting happening Wednesday, as Dr. Toope is required to give at least a year's notice before leaving the job. In a statement, UBC board chair Bill Levine called Dr. Toope's accomplishments as president "truly outstanding," and said a search for his successor will begin shortly. But Dr. Toope gave no hint of whether he'll stay on as a professor at UBC after he steps down.

"I truly have no idea what comes next," he said.