Pay is a fascinating metric. Just ten years ago a handful of college principals earned more than pound;100k a year. Now two-thirds of principals - 220 of them - earn six-figure salaries and the average pay is pound;111k (page 1).
Yet, while they will earn as much - sometimes more - in a week as many of their staff will be paid in a month, FE operates a pretty flat pay structure compared to the private and some parts of the public sectors.
Average principal pay is only three-and-a-bit times average lecturer pay and about six to seven times that of the lowest paid in a college. The key thing is how people perceive their pay relative to that of their colleagues and those they benchmark themselves against.
Unfortunately, FE staff are unlikely to find the comparisons flattering. The rate of increase in the pay of principals consistently outstrips staff rises, 200809 being no exception with a 5.7 per cent rise for principals and 3.2 per cent for most others.
College teachers have also lost ground to their school-based colleagues and the public sector as a whole, according to figures from the University and College Union (page 4).
Most principals, on the other hand, continue to outpace headteachers. The last estimates were that about 100 state secondary school heads earned pound;150k or more, about 3 per cent of the total, while one in eight colleges, excluding sixth forms, paid their principals more than pound;150k in 200809.
Principals still lag well behind university vice-chancellors, who averaged pound;207k in 200809, although those running the bigger colleges are closing that gap.
And why shouldn't they be? Many are heading institutions with annual turnovers of more than pound;50 million, employing hundreds of people and educating tens of thousands of students a year.
One might argue that a top manager could run an organisation of this size and for considerably less than, let's say, pound;197k a year. These days, however, a good principal is more entrepreneur than manager, providing strategic leadership to increasingly large and diversified businesses. If the soaring pay of some principals reflects the market premium attached to such qualities, then maybe it is a price worth paying.
But if it is, then so is the cost of improving pay for the high-quality workforce upon which FE's new breed of well-heeled leaders depend for realising their visions.
Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus