Re: The real problem is... @Tom 38
You've described something not too dissililar to the old grant system.
University places were restricted; A-Levels gave good idea of who was capable (fitted to the normal distribution curve, rather than skewed to thehigher grades), so University could offer places to students with good A-Level results.
For students who got offers, the family income was assessed (taking into account a number of factors including whether other childern from the family were at Uni. already), and a grant depending on income was awarded. Students from poor families got 100% grant, those from rich families got little or no grant with a sliding scale for those in between. The grant was arranged such that any student taking the piss, and not trying to pass the course could have been made to pay it back.
Thus we had a quite fair system, with those students who needed it most getting complete support. I got about 50% grant, and my parents made the rest up (my grant paid for the accommodation in full, and I got the rest in installments from my Dad). Of course, all students got their tuition fees paid automatically.
By keeping the number of places restricted so there was competition, a University place was valued by most students, rather than being taken as a right. I feel that most of my friends 35 years ago all felt privileged to be at University, and few of them wasted it.
And at the end, because there were fewer degrees awarded, they were valued by employers.
Politians still believe this is the case, even though pumping too many mediocre students through the system has devalued a degree to the point where 3 years in the job market rather than a degree will result in a higher paid job. This makes a mockery of degree students being able to pay back their loan and pay more tax.
The crass stupidity in assuming that if you increase the number of degrees awarded, that the country will end up with a more valuable workforce, rather than the reality of just having people with meaningless degrees not relevent to the work they end up doing is one of the classic errors from a left-wing political mindset.
Kids are not equal, and never will be even if you try to say they are (as in the failed Comprehensive system). The best educational leveler IMHO was the Grammar School system for kids with the right academic abillity regardless of background, complemented with streamed secondary schools to act as a catch-net for late achievers, followed by a means-tested grant system to pay for higher education consisting of University for academic achievers and good vocational courses in technical and art colleges coupled with apprenticeship schemes. With this, you end up with a balanced workforce. This is what was put in place in the 1950's and 60's, and probably produced the best education system ever seen in this country.
I admit that it singles out people who have the chance for higher education early, but you have to do this to get the best from young people. No system is perfect, but I believe that the current system is so broken as to not be fit for purpose.