Taxpayers' money is being wasted and the marketplace is not getting the skills it needs because too many young people are going to university, a top education charity boss has warned.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chief executive of the Sutton Trust, suggested some teenagers would be better served earning "while you learn" by completing an apprenticeship scheme.
His comments come as tens of thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to get their A-level results on Tuesday, following a disrupted year of learning.
Exams have been cancelled due to the ongoing Covid pandemic and teachers will instead grade students based on mock tests, coursework and essays, leading to concerns over grade inflation.
Record numbers of students are expected to obtain the grades needed for a place on their first choice course, with top universities warning there will be few places left through the clearing system.
The proportion of young people going into higher education passed former prime minister Tony Blair's target of 50 per cent for the first time in 2019, numbers Sir Peter believes are too high.
He told The Daily Telegraph: "I think there are too many kids going to university.
"Too many graduates come out with a lot of debt, the levels of debt are astronomical, and in many cases they come out with skills that the marketplace doesn't want."
He added: "The students aren't going to be able to pay back the debt so that is a big problem. Who is going to pay?
"We are giving them the money, the taxpayer is funding this, and the taxpayer is not going to get paid back."
An exams body has insisted that grading for A-level results and GCSE's this year will be fair.
On Monday, Ofqual interim chief regulator Simon Lebus told the BBC that the watchdog wanted to create a system where every student was given a fair chance to show what they can do.
"I'm very confident that, when they get their grades on Tuesday and Thursday this week, they'll be able to feel satisfied that that's happened," he told the broadcaster.
Mr Lebus said there have been three stages of checks to ensure students can feel they have been "fairly treated", including Ofqual checking the policies that schools have for awarding grades and exam boards looking over them.
Asked why this system may see slightly more generous grading than a normal exam year, he said: "I think a good way to think of it is exams are a bit like a snapshot, a photograph - you capture an instant, it's a form of sampling - whereas teacher assessment, it allows teachers to observe student performance over a much longer period, in a rather more complex way, taking into account lots of different pieces of work and arriving at a holistic judgment.
"I think, from that point of view, we can feel satisfied that it's likely to give a much more accurate and substantial reflection of what their students are capable of achieving."
Teachers in England have been required to consider a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions from exam boards, to make decisions on pupils' grades.
Headteachers had to submit a personal declaration that they believed grades to be accurate.
Schools and colleges were asked to provide samples of student work to exam boards, as well as evidence used to determine the grades for the students selected, as part of quality assurance checks.
Additional reporting Press Association
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