Our latest figures show 107 colleges spent more than pound;100,000 on the principal's post, including benefits, during the year ending July 2003, compared with 71 the previous year. And 186 colleges spent more than Pounds 90,000.
In a handful of cases, the figure is inflated because of one-off payments or extra severance costs which occur when a principal is appointed during the year.
The principal with the best pay appears to be Ian Ashman, on pound;156,989. He has been principal of Lambeth college since October 2002 and was previously deputy principal of Hackney community college. East Surrey college spent Pounds 213,923 on the principal's post, although this figure includes an enhanced pension contribution of pound;128,039.
The figures come to light as Natfhe, the lecturers' union, prepares for further industrial action this year in support of the national pay deal which has been agreed by the Association of Colleges but not fully-implemented by the majority of principals.
Barry Lovejoy, head of Natfhe's colleges department, said: "It seems principals are not on any form of performance-related pay. Not if you measure performance by their ability to achieve similar pay deals for the bulk of the people doing the work in colleges."
But the AoC says that principals' pay increased by 4.67 per cent, compared with 5.2 per cent for staff. Sue Dutton, the AoC's deputy chief executive, said: "Even that figure is inflated by the greater-than-average increases for principals in London."
The Association for College Management, which includes principals among its members, said top jobs in colleges come with big risks. Peter Pendle, its general secretary, said: "Being a principal is like being a football manager. A couple of bad results and you are out. It is not unusual for school heads to be on pound;80,000 or pound;90,000, and pound;130,000 is the going rate for university vice-chancellors. However, what applies to managers also applies to lecturers if we are to recruit and retain quality staff at that level."