Farmers' children are the biggest winners from the rapid expansion in higher education over the past three decades, according to new research, which confirms most of them are on grants.
ut the biggest losers are working class young people who are still under-represented in college.
Only one-in-five children attended college in 1980 but now it's three in five, according to a study by Drs Selina McCoy and Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
The study knocks on the head the idea that middle classes benefited most from higher education in the past few decades.
It describes as "dramatic" the increase in the proportion of farmers' children going to college, especially since the abolition of tuition fees in 1996.
The majority of young people from farming backgrounds in college qualify for maintenance grants because the system of assessment is based on income rather than assets.
The study suggested the greater geographical spread of institutes of technology around the country created greater opportunities for young people from farming backgrounds to get to college without the cost of moving away from home.
For their study, published in the latest edition of the prestigious international journal 'Higher Education', the researchers used information from regular school leavers' surveys dating back to 1980.
While farmers' children benefited massively from the abolition of fees, the same was not true of working class young people.
Scrapping fees was not sufficient to produce a change in a context where other direct costs, such as the cost of living, accommodation etc, remained high.
In addition, the dramatic economic growth from the late 1990s to 2005 -- especially the strong expansion in the construction sector -- provided an attractive alternative to higher education for young males from working class backgrounds.
The analysis shows people from higher professional backgrounds are at least six times more likely to go to university than those from unskilled or semi-skilled backgrounds.
The study says the indirect costs of attending a university are higher than an institute. It says 38pc of institute students live with their parents/relatives compared with 29pc of university students, thus reducing expenditure on rent and other living costs.
Working class young people tend to be more "risk adverse" than the middle classes. Students who are more risk adverse tend to enrol in an institute rather than a university, partly because of the course structure. They can enrol on certificate courses in the institutes and then progress to a degree.