Janet Price is to retire at the beginning of next year as principal of Inverness College.
Ms Price insisted that her decision was nothing to do with the financial and industrial relations troubles which have marred her three-year tenure. Retiring in early 1999, "in my 60th year", had always been her intention after 35 years in full-time employment.
The search for a successor will be headed by Sir Graham Hills, the former Strathclyde University principal who is emerging as an increasingly prominent member of the college's board. He is also the architect of the University of the Highlands and Islands, the project in which Inverness aimed to be the flagship college.
But, as Inverness became the latest FE centre to be buffeted by financial crisis and acrimonious union relations, its position within UHI weakened. The college has twice failed a quality audit carried out by Inverness and Nairn Enterprise for the Scottish Quality Management System (SQMS).
Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the parent body, has been looking on with increasing alarm and, as Ms Price put it, "offered the college assistance in managing the process of change".
A third attempt to approve the college as an SQMS provider, using different auditors, will be made in September.
Ms Price was subjected to a vote of no confidence by union members last month for "a consistent refusal to listen to staff proposals and failure to follow agreed negotiating procedures".
The unions have rejected plans to replace four faculty headships, created only 18 months ago, by two "heads of curriculum". The management's decision to proceed with advertising the disputed posts deepened union anger, already mounting at the prospect of what they believed could be 20 redundancies among lecturers.