SENIOR college staff hoping for early retirement are racing to find out their rights before changes in pension arrangements come into force.
The Association for College Management has already received inquiries from a third of the 100 principals on its books since the new rules were proposed four weeks ago.
Speakers at the Association of Colleges annual conference last week suggested the number considering early retirement in the next few months because of the changes could be over 70. There are about 450 college principals.
Consultation on the rule change, which would force colleges to fund part of the cost of early retirements for the first time, will finish on January 17 and, if agreed, will be introduced on April 1.
The Government claims recent cuts in college contributions to the pension scheme should bring savings. But colleges insist it will be almost impossible to grant early retirements after next March as they will be unable to afford it. Restructuring plans, normally brought in at the end of the academic year, have been moved forward in some colleges so that any retirements can be made before the April deadline. Principals wanting to go before the deadline will have to reach agreements with their corporations. About 40 per cent of principals are 50 or over and would qualify for early retirement.
Ray Dowd, vice president of the ACM, said: "As colleges grapple with increased efficiencies and returning deficits, many principals are seriously considering their position. I'm already aware of some principals who have negotiated an exit strategy with their corporations so they can be released early because of these changes."
Some colleges were trying to come out of the teachers' pension scheme into the Local Authority Superannuation Scheme in a bid to avoid the rule changes, he said.
Bernard Smith, general secretary of the Association of College Principals, said: "My advice to principals is resign in time to make the deadline."
He said the loss of many senior staff too quickly could affect colleges' ability to deliver national training targets. Staffing costs made up over 80 per cent of many budgets and was one of the few ways colleges could save money, he said. If the rules came into effect they would have to make younger staff redundant while keeping on older staff who wanted to leave.