New figures for further education college principals' salaries have fuelled anger among lecturers' unions.
The results of the Association of Colleges' annual senior post-holder survey show that the best-paid 10 per cent of college heads now earn more than £95,400, a 7.54 per cent increase on last year.
Lecturers' union Natfhe, which is pressing employers for a 2.3 per cent increase for its members, pointed out the stark contrast between the salaries of college heads and the basic salary of £26,423 received by the highest-paid lecturers.
The median basic salary for a college principal in 2002 was £73,500, representing a 4. per cent increase on the previous year. In contrast, the average lecturer earned £21,500 after a 4 per cent increase last year.
The survey also found that the median institutional income rose by 12 per cent to £11.2 million in 2002 compared with 2001.
Despite the figures, the AoC said colleges were still too poor to increase their 2.3 per cent offer to lecturers before September, when the government's £1.2 billion funding boost for further education comes on line.
Natfhe, which is threatening a ballot over renewed strike action from January 31 unless the offer is improved, accused employers of "hypocrisy".
Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney said: "If the principals are setting the AoC pay policy and awarding themselves increases higher than they are offering lecturers, then that shows a degree of statistical hypocrisy."
Barry Lovejoy, Natfhe's colleges spokesman, added: "Over a period of supposed funding shortages it is remarkable how some principals have managed to maintain such high salary levels."
The AoC said college boards had been "extremely careful" to contain the pay expectations of their senior managers, despite competition from other sectors.
But Sue Dutton, AoC deputy chief executive, added: "A falling supply of senior management candidates places pressure on corporations to increase their pay offer to this group. There is also the impact of college mergers and general increases in the size and complexity of colleges.
"College corporations have to face the absolute priority of appointing the best leaders for their organisations while dealing with serious pay pressures from other parts of their corporation. This is a difficult balancing act."
Michael Thrower, principal of Northbrook College, whose pay falls into the top 10 per cent category, said it was a "tragedy" that the government had failed to address lecturers' pay with enough urgency to resolve the issue quickly.
"We have reached a strange situation where, compared with our staff, principals' pay has held up well. Yet compared with other sectors we are poorly paid," he said.
The AoC survey found that other college senior post-holders received significantly less generous pay awards than principals last year. The median pay for deputy and vice-principals increased by 1.95 per cent, while heads of department got just 0.26 per cent and deputy principals took a real-terms cut of 0.45 per cent.