College staff fail to narrow pay gap with their leaders

6th July 2018 at 00:00
Unions call for college principals’ pay to be scrutinised as part of national bargaining

A return to national bargaining may have brought significant pay increases for teaching and support staff in Scottish colleges, but it has barely narrowed the gap with their generously rewarded leaders, a Tes Scotland analysis has revealed.

According to the most recent available college accounts, principals at Scotland’s incorporated colleges earn on average 3.7 times more than the median staff remuneration at their colleges. This is roughly on a par with the ratio in 2015-16, when the multiple was 3.8, despite the fact that the median remuneration for staff has increased in all but three of the 20 colleges since that time, and has remained the same at two.

That means principal pay has increased at roughly the same rate as staff pay, despite not being part of the national bargaining process.

The ratio, which colleges are obliged to report, uses the pay of the highest-paid permanent staff member – in the case of colleges in Scotland, the principal – and median staff remuneration. The resulting number is influenced by structural factors, such as the proportion of teaching staff employed by a college versus the number of lower-paid support staff.

The median principal pay is £123,896, compared with about £130,000 for colleges in England, where the number of principals earning more than £200,000 has risen to 17.

The picture in Scottish FE is far from uniform, however. The ratio actually dropped at eight of the 20 incorporated colleges – meaning principal pay remained the same or fell, while median staff pay rose – but it increased at five institutions and stayed the same at the remaining seven.

The ratio itself also varies significantly, between 2.7 and 4.8. But nothing touches the 6.1 ratios that the Association of Colleges estimates exist at some institutions in England. According to Scottish college accounts, the highest ratio, 4.8, was at Fife College, where principal Hugh Hall took over from Hugh Logan on 1 March 2017. The college’s accounts state that, “based on the 12 months equivalent figures, the banded remuneration of the highest paid official in the organisation in the financial year 2016-17 was £150,000-£155,000”.

The accounts stress that this includes core salary and a sum equivalent to the college’s contribution to the pension scheme. They add that a consideration of salary on its own would take the ratio down to 4.1.

A spokeswoman says: “The principal’s salary is approved by the board’s remuneration committee and reflects the responsibilities attached to the job.”

‘They’re not football managers’

City of Glasgow College principal Paul Little, the highest-paid principal in Scotland, earned between £165,000 and £170,000 in 2016-17 – compared with between £160,000 and £165,000 the previous year. That was 4.7 times the median remuneration of the workforce, which stood at £35,814.

New College Lanarkshire principal Martin McGuire’s pay increased from £128,615 in 2015-16 to £137,500 in 2016-17. That meant that although median staff pay also went up – from £36,368 to £36,812 – the overall ratio rose from 3.5 to 3.7. The lowest reported ratio was at Lews Castle College in the Western Isles, with 2.7, followed by Inverness College at 3.1.

Edinburgh College saw a drop in its ratio, from 4.3 to 3.9, with the accounts stating that “the decrease is a result of the national pay award paid to lecturers as a result of national bargaining”. And at West Lothian College, the ratio dropped from 4.3 to 3.7 in a single year – largely down to an increase in median remuneration for staff, which rose from £25,089 to £29,792. Meanwhile, the salary of principal Mhairi Harrington remained at £107,500.


Unions believe senior managers at colleges should be part of the national bargaining process. Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, which represents lecturers, says: “The EIS and EIS Fela [Further Education Lecturers’ Association] have been clear that principals’ salaries should be part of the national bargaining arrangements that apply to lecturers, and that some principal salaries are disproportionate compared with lecturers’ pay. It is surprising, and disappointing, that the differential between the pay of lecturers and principals has not reduced.

“Colleges claim to have no money for cost-of-living increases for lecturers, but Tes Scotland figures seem to suggest that money has been found to maintain very high remuneration packages for principals.”

Chris Greenshields, chair of Unison’s FE committee in Scotland, says that most of the blame for the financial difficulties at colleges is “incorrectly heaped on national bargaining”.

“Efficiencies are required, but it is galling to Unison that the burden of job losses, downgrading and overwork is being piled on support staff,” he says. “The senior-manager cohort is certainly an area in terms of numbers and the disproportionately high salaries that ought, in Unison’s view, to be a high priority for close examination.”

Unison’s Scottish organiser, John Gallacher, adds: “It is time Scottish ministers took the bull by the horns and moved all principals and senior staff within scope of the [National Joint Negotiating Committee] machinery and extended job evaluation to cover every single post in Scottish FE.

“There is no place in the public sector for privileged and individualised employment contracts. We are talking about public servants here, not football managers.”

A City of Glasgow College spokeswoman says the combined role of principal and chief executive is “one of the most demanding”.

She adds: “The salary reflects principal Little’s global standing and expertise, as well as the continued success he brings to City of Glasgow College.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for New College Lanarkshire says: ‘The New College Lanarkshire principal’s salary was set by the remuneration committee of the Lanarkshire regional board. The principal’s salary was adjusted to take account of the additional responsibilities of Coatbridge College and New College Lanarkshire merging. The committee considered the size and scale of the merged college and the wider responsibilities of the region.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, stresses that the role of principals, as leaders of large multi-million-pound public sector organisations, is “complex and demanding, and commensurate with similar roles in other parts of the public sector”.

She says: “The college sector values all its staff very highly, and is committed to fair and equitable pay and conditions of service. As you would expect in any large organisation, there will be variations in pay at different levels for staff undertaking different types of job.”

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