I left a top six independent school in 1972 with A level grades exceeding an offer I had from a redbrick university to read English - and didn't go! I wanted to get a job to buy guitars and amps etc. I did however get a decent job in the the Civil Service which offered further training (in accountancy), and ended up a partner in the world's biggest accountancy firm, PwC.
In that life I've done a hell of a lot of training and teaching myself (with no formal qualifications), including at one stage ending up being senior moderator for the professional exam all insolvency practitioners have to pass, but I can confirm that PwC spends a bloody fortune on teaching actually very bright graduates simply to read and write properly.
I don't want a return to the 1950s, but there is something fundamentally wrong with the Blair target of getting 50% of kids into university. The right target should be "however many kids merit higher education, and can demonstrate the required level of educational achievement to benefit from it". It won't be 50%. It should have nothing to do with wealth. Or attracting lucrative funds from foreign students, whose fees are not capped.
One of the best single things you could do for UK students is require universities to charge no more to foreign students than they do to domestic ones (already a requirement for EU students). The only relevant entrance criteria should be merit. This year, thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of UK students will not get places. Without wishing to sound like the (odious!) British National Party, every rich foreigner who has effectively bought a place has kept one of them out, and we ought to consider that to be an affront.
It's also not very good for Britain's long-term global competitiveness, is it?
Dynamite with a laser beam...