Educating young people to A-level and degree standard boosts the UK's coffers by tens of thousands of pounds per student, new research shows. But the economy could be damaged if the UK fails to produce more highly skilled workers, says a report commissioned by the University and College Union.
The study shows that it costs the state around £5,000 to put a pupil through a two-year A-level course and almost £19,000 to send the average student to university.
It adds that the UK economy benefits "substantially" from individuals gaining these higher qualifications.
Overall, the Government will get an extra £180,000 back from a graduate over a working lifetime, compared to someone with A-levels.
And the return to the wider economy of a student gaining an A-level is around £47,000, the report says.
Peter B Hamilton, headmaster of the private Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School and chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference academic policy committee, said: "A-levels are and will remain the most important examination for young people completing their pre-university education.
"Michael Gove is right to want university input into the much-needed review of A-levels but it would be most unwise to give universities total control.
"Those who teach 16 and 17-year-olds know best what they need, both to expand their knowledge base and develop their study skills, so input from successful sixth-form teachers will be equally important in getting an examination system fit for the 21st century."
It is a "national scandal" that poorer pupils are lagging up to a year behind their richer classmates in their schooling, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg is expected to warn later.
In a speech to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference in Manchester, Mr Twigg will say: "In other words, being a poor pupil in a poor classroom is the equivalent of being left a year behind. This is a national scandal.
"I know there are inequalities in our health system, but if poorer patients were left to linger on waiting lists for an extra year there would be a huge outcry."
A study by Cambridge Assessment found that more than half of lecturers think that undergraduates are unprepared for degree-level study.
The findings show that academics want A-levels to include more advanced content for bright students, cover subjects in more depth and encourage critical thinking, independent study, experimentation and more extensive reading.
New style A-levels could be in our schools by 2016 under proposals for universities to have more of an influence over exams.
In a letter to the head of Ofqual, the qualifications watchdog, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove says he is concerned that the current A-level system is failing to prepare students for university.