Are too many chiefs fuelling FE's pay gap?

Comment: Alan Thomson

Alan Thomson

The global gap between rich and poor is growing, we are told, not necessarily because the poor are getting poorer but because the rate at which people are becoming wealthy and adding to that wealth is outstripping the rate at which people escape poverty.

Our front page story this week would seem to support, in a highly localised sense, the idea that the number of people earning decent money is growing faster than the number earning far less. This should be of concern to college leaders.

Yet by basing its survey on the numbers of college staff earning more than pound;50,000 a year, the University and College Union (UCU) risks creating an unhelpful "them and us" divide between people who, for the most part, aren't paid particularly well for the work they do.

UCU had to draw a line somewhere but, as the Association of Colleges points out, the union's measure of high pay in universities is pound;100,000 and above.

Universities are bigger, wealthier and employ many more on pound;100,000-plus salaries than colleges. This may reflect the different thresholds. But in the real world of bills, mortgages and inflation, can a pound;50,000-a-year manager with, as the Association for College Management says, "more responsibilities" on their plates, really be considered highly paid?

The fact that pound;50,000 is seen as a high salary for FE speaks volumes. Average pay for teachers is about pound;35,000, compared with about pound;28,000 for FE teachers. But at the top of the "excellent" scale, school teachers can earn more than pound;50,000 in England, rising to nearly pound;60,000 in London.

Academics earned pound;43,486 on average and professors averaged almost pound;70,000 in 200708, according to the last analysis of pay in our universities published in Times Higher Education.

College heads must be alive to any hint that they are increasing the number of "chiefs". There may be good reason for the rate of increase in higher earners in FE but this will cut little ice among staff facing redundancy over the coming months.

Equally, leaders ought to be aware that their pay rises at twice the rate of those awarded to staff will appear even less defensible in this period of financial restraint.

Perhaps the real benefit of the UCU survey is that it underlines how poorly paid FE staff are as a whole compared with their university and school counterparts.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus, E: alan.thomson@tsleducation.com.

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