THE number of Scottish college students from deprived backgrounds getting payments as an incentive to continue their studies is in decline.

Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) for those from the most deprived backgrounds in further education fell by more than 12% in a year.

Hugh Henry, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, issued a warning over the decline – from nearly 4000 to 3410.

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He said: "Young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds face the biggest challenge in obtaining employment, and accessing education or training.

"Scottish Labour introduced EMAs to give youngsters the financial support they need to benefit from education to better equip them to get a job. This steep reduction in the poorest college students claiming EMAs is worrying."

First Minister Alex Salmond pointed to the fact the UK Government has withdrawn EMAs for students in England and Wales.

And he said overall EMAs – which pay up to £845 a year – supported almost 35,000 young people to stay in learning and improve employment prospects.

He said: "Our support targets those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring our least well off young people can improve their life chances."

Overall, 34,390 school pupils and college students received EMA payments in Scotland in the academic year 2011/12, a fall of 1.1%. School pupils account for 64% of young people in receipt of EMA payment, with the other 36% being college students.