Two students a day are signing up to an online dating service to receive a university education in Northern Ireland in return for sex, it's been claimed.
Around 700 female and male students in Northern Ireland are using 'sugar daddy' dating service SeekingArrangement.com to pay their way through college.
The statistics have been published by the controversial US-based dating service which pairs off attractive young women – and, in some cases, men – with wealthy older men.
The company which operates the website claims that 6,460 women and 555 men in Northern Ireland have used the website to meet rich partners.
Just over 1,700 (1,728) 'sugar daddies' here have also used the online dating agency – 438 of whom live in Belfast.
The latest figures from the Las Vegas-based agency also claim to show a sharp rise in the number of so-called 'college sugar babies' using the service in the last year.
They appear to indicate that Queen's University is ranked 16th of the fastest growing 'sugar baby schools' in the UK.
The figures quoted show 222 students at the Belfast university have signed up to the website, including 120 who joined last year.
Belfast Metropolitan College has 210 members (43 new members as of 2012), while 173 students attending University of Ulster use the service.
North West Regional College has 86 members of SeekingArrangement.com, while Southern Regional College has 71.
According to the website's survey, Belfast came 13th in a Europe-wide survey of its membership numbers.
It comes amid a wider trend of rising university fees, fewer part-time jobs and declining wages.
Students from other parts of the UK pay as much as £9,000 a year to attend universities in Northern Ireland.
University lecturer and women's activist, Goretti Horgan, said the agency's figures were an indictment of that reality.
"I think desperate people do desperate things," she said.
But Anna Lo, Alliance MLA for South Belfast, said the arrangement equated to "prostitution" and warned women against being exploited.
"I'm appalled," she said. "This is really selling yourself – selling yourself to rich men.
SeekingArrangement.com's company chief executive officer, Brandon Wade, has defended the agency as a service connecting "intelligent and goal-orientated ladies... (with) sugar daddies (who) are respectful gentlemen".
"Because the relationship between a sugar daddy and a sugar baby is romantic in nature, most sugar relationships will likely involve sex," he recently wrote on the website. "And because a sugar daddy is expected to be the generous gentleman, money will always be spent on the sugar baby. I don't see anything wrong (or illegal) with that."
Anna Lo warned women using such a service to be careful.
"I would warn women not to put themselves in a vulnerable position to be exploited by older and richer men.
"I'm sure there are many very good, older, richer men, but really it's an unequal relationship."
Goretti Horgan said: "It's a sign of the failure of our politicians to tackle youth unemployment."
* Queen's University: 222 members (including 120 new members in 2012)
* University of Ulster: 173 members (78 new members in 2012)
* Belfast Metropolitan College: 210 members (43 joined last year)
* Northern Regional College: 62 members (21 joined in 2012)
* North West Regional College: 86 members (31 joined last year
* Southern Regional College: 71 members (39 joined in 2012)
* South Eastern Regional College: 23 members (9 joined last year)
* South West College: 76 members (35 joined last year)