EDUCATION quangos have come under fire from both main opposition parties as they strive to push sleaze to the top of the election agenda.
The Liberal Democrats have attacked quango chiefs' pay rises, which in the past ten years have averaged three times those for lecturing staff.
Labour has accused the Government of rewarding directors of companies that have donated generously to the Conservatives with key posts.
Derek Foster, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, claims board members of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Further Education Funding Council have links with companies that have contributed more than Pounds 1 million to the Tories over the years.
He accused the Conservatives of rewarding their supporters with "lucrative fat cat posts".
His targets include Rab Telfer, a HEFCE board member and since 1986 a director of Volex, which in the past ten years has given Pounds 30,000 to the Conservatives.
He also highlights former Further Education Funding Council board member Anthony Close, who left in July 1995. From 1983 until 1993, he was personnel chief at the Trusthouse Forte Group, which between 1979 and 1995 gave Central Office Pounds 855,700.
Brandon Gough, who earns Pounds 120,000 as chairman of Yorkshire Water, in addition to the Pounds 37,000 he receives for his two days per week as chairman of HEFCE, is also a director of De La Rue and the building company George Wimpey, which between them have donated more than Pounds 400,000 to the Conservatives. But in both cases this was before Mr Gough joined their boards.
Figures revealed in answer to a Parliamentary question from Don Foster, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, last week showed the number of education quangos had grown from five to 15 in the past ten years.
While paying the chief executives of these bodies cost the Government Pounds 142,149 at the beginning of the period, the cost was Pounds 1,131,629 by the end as salaries soared by an average of 165 per cent to Pounds 1,451 per week.
Chairmen, working an average of 1.6 days per week, have seen their average payments rise by 146 per cent over the same period.
This compares with an increase in academic salaries since 1987/88 of just 45 per cent.
Mr Foster said: "These figures reveal a Government with their priorities desperately wrong."
An Association of University Teachers spokesman said: "These people must feel as uncomfortable as academic staff feel angry."
But a Conservative party spokesman said the idea was to attract high-calibre candidates to posts with responsibilities for public money and whose remit was to make savings.