Business leaders and charity chief executives could be headhunted to be the college principals of the future under new government plans.
As part of proposals to create a more professional further education workforce, the Department for Education and Skills wants to encourage industry moguls to apply their expertise to colleges.
A spokesman for the DfES denied the plan amounted to a criticism of college leadership.
"There are a lot of talented senior leaders but not quite enough applying for principals' posts. There are shortages. We are making sure we are not closing off options for people who might be interested in the sector," he said.
He said applicants could be offered a "range of incentives" but did not specify whether higher salaries would be among them.
New recruits could join colleges as vice-principals in order to learn how FE works while they are groomed for the top jobs.
But college managers raised concerns about whether the plans were realistic. Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "I doubt there will be an influx from the private sector.
Governments often have lofty intentions, but whether they're able to achieve their objectives is questionable.
"They won't unless they really knuckle down and do something about the pay issues in the sector. You're not going to get high fliers from the private sector to work in FE for half the salary."
The plans are part of a series of measures out for consultation, including a minimum requirement of 30 hours' continuous professional development for all lecturers every year, revealed by FE Focus last month.
New principals will have to take a purpose-built qualification, and a new Qualified Teacher of Learning and Skills award will be phased in for all lecturers from 2007.
The plans suggest rationing teacher-training places for FE, as already happens for schoolteachers. The new standards are also intended to apply to work-based training, enforced by the threat of a withdrawal of public funding.
'Professionalisation of the Learning and Skills Sector' is available from:www.dfes.gov.uk