Principals’ pay drops as colleges feel the pinch

18th March 2016 at 00:00
But unions still condemn leaders’ salaries, as FE’s top earner takes home £363k

pay for college principals has fallen overall, an analysis by TES Further reveals, with the squeeze being attributed to the sector’s funding pressures.

While the number of college principals who are earning more than £200,000 trebled to 12 in 2013-14, that figure dropped by almost half to just seven in 2014-15, according to the new statistics, published by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The best-paid FE leader in England was Sunaina Mann, principal and chief executive of the North East Surrey College of Technology (Nescot) Group, whose salary in 2014-15 was £363,000 – more than double the £150,000 that she received the previous year (see table, below).

But analysis of the latest figures reveals that the total spent by colleges on pay for their principals dropped by around £1 million from the previous year, with the average reported salary also dropping to just over £123,000.

And with area reviews likely to lead to a severely reduced number of CEO roles as colleges across the country look to form mergers and federations to make financial savings, experts have warned that the picture will become even more complex.

Sir Geoff Hall, the general secretary of the Principals’ Professional Council, said: “The overall drop in pay is surely a product of the age of austerity and of governors being cautious, and understandably so.

“But I’d have thought that some of these mega-colleges [which are expected to be formed through the area reviews] are going to have to pay large amounts to their leaders; if you put large colleges together, you’ve got to pay [the new chief executive] more than either of their principals are getting.”

Leadership changes

The college leadership landscape is also likely to evolve in the next few years, Sir Geoff added, with some large college groups expected to be operating across a number of college sites.

These would be likely to be headed up by a group chief executive, with principals working under them with responsibility for individual campuses.

“For younger folk with aspirations, the aspiration is going to have to be principal at second tier,” he said. “I think for quite a lot of people, that will be a noble aspiration; not everybody wants to be the big player. For quite a lot of colleagues, this would be perfectly acceptable: they would rather concentrate on their students and on education.”

However, the University and College Union hit out at the high levels of pay awarded to some college leaders while their staff were subjected to a pay freeze.

The UCU and Unison last month went on strike after the Association of Colleges, representing its members, refused to offer a pay rise for staff, arguing that mounting financial pressures meant that it was “not sustainable” for its members to offer any pay rise for 2015-16. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “While some principals at UK colleges continue to enjoy sky-high salaries and pay hikes, staff pay continues to be held down. At a time when staff are facing real-terms pay cuts we are disappointed that principals’ salaries continue to remain so high.”


Big pay reflects huge responsibilities, claim colleges

Colleges have told TES that the salaries of their principals and chief executives reflect the size, scope and complexity of the organisations that they lead.

With a total salary of £363,000, Sunaina Mann, principal and chief executive of the Nescot Group, was the highest paid FE leader in 2014-15. A spokesman for the group stresses that it now includes the Jeddah College of Excellence in Saudi Arabia.

Birmingham Metropolitan College confirmed that its principal and chief executive, Andrew Cleaves, received £260,000, as well as a pension contribution of £38,000, making him the second highest-paid principal in England. The college argues that it is one of the largest FE organisations in the UK.

The Cornwall College Group also stresses that the size of the institution was a factor behind principal Amarjit Basi’s £200,000 pay packet.

Meanwhile, Nevil Croston, chair of governors at West Nottinghamshire College, says Dame Asha Khemka, who earned £245,000 in 2014-15, is “one of the most prominent and exceptional principals within the further education sector”.

“As a leader of a multi-million-pound business with a significant profile, the board believes that the salary that she is paid is commensurate with her responsibilities and achievements,” he adds.

A spokeswoman for NCG, whose chief executive Joe Docherty was paid £227,000 in 2014-15, stresses that the organisation is one of the UK’s largest education and training organisations with a turnover of £178 million annually. Comparable organisations in the private sector would tend to pay considerably more, he adds.

The £185,000 salary of the Manchester College chief executive took into consideration market rates and performance, a spokeswoman says.

Meanwhile, Stockport College says that the £201,000 it paid out in 2014-15 was for an interim post holder, and that that figure exceeds the salary currently paid to principal Simon Andrews.

North Hertfordshire College says its figure covered a period of overlap between former and current principals Signe Sutherland and Matt Hamnett, and emphasises that the package “enabled us to attract candidates with the vision and expertise required to steer the institution toward a vibrant, sustainable future”.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today