A mass exodus of college principals is expected within months, according to a new study which shows significant numbers are approaching retirement age.
The most recent survey by the Colleges' Employers' Forum reveals the age profile of chief executives in the further education sector is weighted dramatically towards the older end.
In a sample of 317 principals - nearly three-quarters of the sector - 19 were over 60. More significantly, 69 fall into the 55-59 age bracket, with the majority in the older half of the group. Many of those are expected to opt to go before they reach 60, prompting a spate of vacancies arising from next term onwards.
Older principals' decisions to take voluntary severance will be boosted by the fact that many have already completed their maximum period of pension enhancement and therefore have no financial incentive to stay.
Many will be due to receive two-thirds or more of their salary - likely to have risen considerably in the three years since incorporation - plus other benefits.
Roger Ward, former CEF chief executive and now acting joint chief executive of the new Association of Colleges, anticipates "very significant turnover in the sector" within 12 months.
"We can expect a splurge of advertisements for new chief executives starting after September for posts falling free in January and April, and then another wave of advertisements at the start of the new year."
Though rumours of fast turnover have been rife since incorporation, changes to come will be on a scale not yet seen in the sector, Mr Ward suggests. Amid the pressures of cost-cutting and uncertainty, principals who might traditionally have served until retirement age will now prefer to go early.
The CEF analysis also examined comparative rates of pay for male and female chief executives. Despite the common belief that women managers in FE are often employed on lower salaries than male counterparts, the survey revealed the average wage for a female principal is slightly higher than for a male.
A gender gap is clearer in relation to college size. Currently only around one in seven principals is a woman. Women principals are rarest in the largest FE colleges.