The imposition of national pay deals across all colleges in Scotland will make it difficult to attract the best lecturers and support staff, a college has warned.
The introduction of national pay was welcomed by the sector as one of the positive outcomes of college regionalisation last year. But North East Scotland College (Nescol) said it would struggle to recruit high-quality staff, who could be tempted into private-sector jobs with better salaries.
An evaluation report prepared by the Scottish Funding Council, obtained by TESS through a Freedom of Information request, says that the college's management board is "concerned about the impact of national pay bargaining and highlighted that the region faced particular staffing challenges owing to the buoyant economy in the region".
"We note that this often results in higher levels of staff turnover, as staff are encouraged to move into the private sector for higher levels of pay. We recognise that the college needs to be able to attract and retain staff and pay staff accordingly," the report states.
Nescol principal Rob Wallen told TESS that living costs were higher in the region than in other parts of the country and therefore salaries at his college were higher than elsewhere in the sector.
"If they are an HR professional or something they could work in any industry, so you are competing for those people with other employers in Aberdeenshire," he said.
Mr Wallen added that engineering was another field in which the college was competing for quality staff. The people who taught the subject were, by definition, engineers and could find better-paid work in private industry, he said.
He also argued that lecturers could work at a variety of colleges but were less likely to want to stay in an area with very high housing costs, which was an issue in Aberdeen.
"We need to make sure that the [national pay] arrangements are appropriate for the whole sector," Mr Wallen said.
In June last year, TESS revealed huge variations in pay in the college sector. Figures from the Scottish Funding Council showed that the average salary of heads of faculty, for example, could range from pound;35,683 to pound;70,000 a year. Meanwhile, basic-grade lecturers could earn between pound;31,009 and pound;37,274.
Unions welcomed the move by the Scottish government to include collective bargaining in the Post-16 Education Act last summer, ending more than two decades of local deals. Employers and trade unions have agreed to talks and are now discussing the next steps en route to a national pay deal.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, told TESS that it would be a "significant challenge" to remove pay inequalities.
"There will be several rounds of negotiations ahead but now that the framework for national bargaining has been agreed, all parties must work together to deliver an improved and fairer system of FE pay bargaining," he said.
"As is the case in some local authority areas, college boards would also potentially be able to offer additional incentives to attract staff, taking into account local circumstances."
Edinburgh College chair Ian McKay, who also chairs the national bargaining group, said it was "quite normal" for national bargaining systems to recognise local variations, the NHS being one such example.
"It would not be appropriate for everything to be done at national level," he said. "There will be a variation in conditions and wages out there. That is not to say national bargaining won't work."