The top salaries, published for the first time in this week's TES Scotland (FE Focus, page 30), ranged from pound;79,000 for Rae Angus, principal of Aberdeen College, to pound;47,000 for David Rose and Chris Nixon, principals of Barony and Oatridge colleges.
Bob Kay, chairman of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said salaries reflected the considerable increase in responsibilities since incorporation. "Most colleges have a fairly lean management structure and principals carry a heavy personal responsibility."
But Marian Healy, further and higher education officer at the Educational Institute of Scotland, called on the funding council to investigate whether principals' pay represents value for money.
The TESS compiled the details from published college annual accounts for 1995-96 and 1996-97 and a Commons written answer which revealed pay figures for 1997-98, the latest available.
Although the salaries of higher education principals have been published nationally for the past four years, FE principals are only required to disclose information in their own annual accounts.
The Scottish Office said earlier this year that the data was not available, despite the fact that it receives colleges' annual accounts.
Although there were some generous hikes during the three years - more than 20 per cent at Cardonald, Langside and Falkirk - FE chiefs are modest earners compared with their university counterparts. The highest-paid university principal last year was Sir Stewart Sutherland at Edinburgh with pound;132,000. The lowest salary was pound;99,000 for Bernard King at Abertay University.
Leader, page 18