The sector may be suffering unprecedented levels of cuts, but Scotland's colleges still employed almost 300 staff with pay packages of pound;50,000-plus in 2010-11.
Figures collected by Langside College from individual colleges' annual accounts revealed there were 282 "senior post holders" - those paid pound;50,000 or more - at 35 colleges. In some cases, the numbers included only those staff paid more than pound;60,000 or pound;70,000.
The annual accounts for the same 35 colleges listed 305 senior postholders in 2009-10 - 17 more than last year. Last September, with the sector facing a 10 per cent cut to its funding, TESS reported that there had been almost 900 redundancies at 31 colleges which took part in a Scotland's Colleges survey.
In Langside's 2010-11 survey, gathered as part of the principal's annual benchmarking report to his board, City of Glasgow College is listed as having 40 staff earning over pound;50,000. In the previous year, the aggregate of top earners for the three institutions that merged to create Scotland's biggest college was 29.
City of Glasgow College principal Paul Little came out as Scotland's highest-paid principal last year, with a pay package of pound;147,000. The salaries of Rob Wallen, principal of Aberdeen College, and Sue Pinder, James Watt College principal, were listed as earning pound;133,000. Miles Dibsdall, principal of Edinburgh's Telford College, earned pound;132,000. The salaries listed in the college accounts may also include benefits in kind.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: "It's simply wrong that some college principals should be receiving such pay rewards while staff across the sector are being slashed. At a time when all areas of the college sector are facing huge financial pressures, principals and senior managers need to think hard about how to best spend their budgets to ensure their students succeed."
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the rise in the number of senior posts at City of Glasgow College raised "further questions over supposed efficiency gains in administration" which were "often touted by merger proponents as one of the key benefits of larger merged institutions".
Mr Little told TESS the merger of the three colleges had led to savings of pound;6 million. Of the staff who left the college through voluntary redundancies, 70 per cent had been management or support staff, he added.
The 30 people eligible for assistant principal posts had been reduced to 14, and 37 heads of school reduced to 12, he added.
Scotland's college principals represented "very good value for money", and their salaries bore no resemblance to those of many university principals, despite the challenges the FE sector was facing, said Mr Little.
He also cautioned that different definitions for staff categories were used across the sector.