How does the pay of managers in college compare with the salaries earned by their equivalents elsewhere? Direct comparisons are tricky because of the unique nature of much of further education but it looks as if - with the exception of thehighest-paid principals or chief executives - most FE managers are worse off than those outside.
Figures from the central pay and benefits database held by the leading human resource consultants, William M Mercer, show that the average base salary for first-line managers in private and public sector organisations is pound;29,007; middle managers earn an average of pound;49,479, while senior managers receive an average of pound;72,710. The majority of private-sector managers also receive bonuses. For middle and senior managers, these can vary between 12 and 40 per cent of annual earnings.
Terrie Hughes, a senior consultant at Mercer, says middle managers in FE fare particularly badly. "When you progress through a grade structure in an organisation, you tend to move very slowly and never get your wake-up call," she says.
Steve Tatton, of Incomes Data Services, specialist pay analysts, says the problem for lecturers promoted to first-line and middle management is that they are effectively "a captured labour market".
But in appointing human resources and finance directors, for example, a college has to match market salaries. "If you're looking to appoint people from outside, you need to be more competitive," says Mr Tatton.
Mercer's database shows that a head of finance in a company with an annual turnover f below pound;15 million earns an average base salary of pound;47,237. The Association of Colleges' survey found a level three finance manager in a college that spends between pound;9 and pound;12 million per year earns a median base salary of pound;42,420 - slightly less but not significantly so.
Peter Lennard, chair of the College Finance Directors' Group, says there is a reasonable turnover of such posts in FE. In many cases, they earn more than other senior college managers. In private industry, it is not unusual for directors of finance to be given company cars as part of their package. "The perks are a bit less in FE but the salaries are competitive," he says. "Some people come in because it's interesting to work in the sector rather than at a firm selling widgits."
Others leave because of budget problems or the complexities of the funding methodology. There is also a tendency to "bundle" jobs in colleges so the director of finance is also in charge of areas such as resources and administration. "It's fairly rare outside of FE for finance directors to have other duties," he says.
Personnel specialists, generally not as well paid as people in other disciplines, may be slightly better off in FE. Mercer's database shows a head of human resources earning an average of pound;38,354 in the private sector - compared with pound;39,551 in a medium-sized college. For a head of marketing, the equivalent figures are pound;47,281 in a private company and pound;38,909 in a college while, for a head of information technology, the figures are pound;39,235 and pound;32,157 respectively.