Educating youngsters to A-level and degree standard boosts the UK's coffers by tens of thousands of pounds per student, new research has shown.
But the economy could be damaged if the UK fails to produce more highly skilled workers, according to a report commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU).
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, it calculates.
The study, conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), also found that there are still great personal benefits from gaining higher level qualifications.
An individual with a degree can expect to earn £98,000 more over their lifetime compared to someone with two or more A-levels - known as a "graduate premium".
After tuition fees treble to a maximum of £9,000 this autumn, this premium will fall slightly, although a graduate will still earn between £79,500 and £86,000 more over a working lifetime, depending on the level of fees they paid.
The study, published as UCU meets for its annual congress in Manchester, says it is vital that the UK ensures it can meet the need for skilled workers in new growth industries.
A BIS spokesman said: "The Government recognises the importance of a highly skilled workforce and that is why despite the tough economic climate we are continuing to invest in improving skills and knowledge. More people than ever before will benefit from higher education in 2012.
"Our reforms put university funding on to a sustainable footing. We estimate that the cash going to universities could rise to £11 billion by 2014-15, which is an increase of 10%."