Thousands of Ulster's poorest teenagers are being lured into college by educational maintenance allowances, according to new research in the province, writes Alan Erwin.
Teenagers from poorer families in the province are four times more likely than those from affluent backgrounds to quit education at 16, but the study has found that the grants, of up to pound;30 a week, have made a significant impact on their decision-making.
The money is available to teenagers whose family income is less than Pounds 30,000. In reality, most claimants come from households where the income is below pound;20,000.
In EMAs' first year, more than 10,400 of Ulster's 16-year-olds applied, at a cost of pound;9 million. The study into EMAs was carried out by Queen's University and the University of Ulster.
They found 30 per cent of respondents' decision to stay in education was influenced by the allowance.
Their report, To Stay or Not to Stay: That is the Question, used data from the 2005 Young Life and Times province-wide survey of 16-year-olds.
Katrina Lloyd and Paula Devine, who compiled the study, discovered other major differences based on family wealth.
The study showed that the high drop-rate existed despite that fact that most teenagers agree extended education leads to better pay.
Ms Devine said: "Future monitoring of these statistics, in conjunction with further research into the impact of EMA on participation rates, particularly among young people from poorer family backgrounds, will help identify any cause and effect."
More than a third of a million teenagers were paid to study under the EMA scheme in England last year, when 380,000 grants were made by the Learning and Skills Council.
EMAs have been widely seen as a success in all four countries of the UK, although there have been concerns over red tape - with colleges having to confirm the attendance of recipients.
Increasing the number of 16 to 19-year-olds in education remains a government priority - whether they study full-time at college or in work-based training.
Forecasts say a steady increase in the number of 16-year-olds staying in education is set to increase.