The iPods are being offered as an "incentive" to students
Unemployed teenagers are being offered £170 iPods to take part in a course aimed at helping them to find work.
Critics say that handing out the personal digital music players to teenagers amounts to bribery.
The offer is being made for the Step Up For Summer course, run by Bournemouth and Poole College in Dorset, on which students are also paid to attend.
College bosses have defended the scheme, saying they are simply offering an incentive for reluctant students.
But Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the course was sending teenagers the wrong message.
He said: "To me they are offering them a bribe.
"It seems like a waste of taxpayers' money and an abuse of taxpayers' money.
"It's giving the wrong message about the value of education. It tells teenagers they don't have to do anything unless they are getting a sweetener."
The course itself is aimed at teenagers preparing for a gap year, getting ready for the workplace, or to boost them ahead of a college course starting this September.
The free iPod is subject to completion of the course, which offers team-building activities and life skills, such as how to budget money, CV writing, travelling tips and first aid, work experience and community projects.
Students aged between 16 to 18 who embark on the 14-week course get paid £50 a week for one day a week of work, £100 cash when they finish the course, a further £100 payment if they enrol on a further full-time course at the college, free lunch vouchers and free travel if they live more than three miles away.
A spokeswoman for Bournemouth and Poole College said the course was targeted at around 700 "Neets" - the term the government uses to describe youngsters who are Not in Education, Employment or Training - in Dorset.
She said there was a maximum of 100 places on the course and the college expected to recruit between 30 and 70 students.
The spokeswoman said: "They are not the sort of student who would come in to do a course anyway.
"They don't perceive themselves as wanting to engage in learning or training so I see it as an incentive to get them back in to learning.
"They do have to be treated differently.
"I personally do not see it as a bribe. I see it as an incentive."
The college has had 30 applications so far and started advertising the course last Monday.
The Learning and Skills Council, which funds post-16 education outside universities, said the decision to offer incentives was the college's. It was paying for them out of its own income sources.