Attending an elite university does not necessarily lead to better earning potential, a report has suggested.
The study by University Alliance warns that concentrating on getting into what are traditionally seen as the country's top universities risks stalling social mobility in Britain.
While a small (and shrinking) number of traditional professions recruit from only a select group of universities there is evidence, once prior attainment and family background are taken into account, that attending an elite university is not inherently better for the student than attending any other university in terms of their future earning potential, the report found.
It suggests the debate on social mobility and higher education has been too focused on getting into a university and, within that, access to a very select number of institutions, rather than whether the
particular course it offers is the best one for the student.
The study calls for more effective and joined-up careers guidance, highlighting research which found that while a third of teenagers wanted to do just 10 highly-competitive jobs, the 10 least popular jobs pay above median wage and offer good ongoing career opportunities.
Graduates with parents in partly-skilled occupations are 30% more likely than others to have a non graduate-level job 18 months after finishing university, and for those whose parents are unemployed this
rises to 80%.
Research also shows that white students are more likely to achieve "successful" graduate outcomes, defined as either entering employment or going on to further study, with those defined as black African having the lowest success rate.
And wage disparity between males and females, and state and privately educated students also continues to be an issue, even when they have carried out the same course at the same university.
The study suggests a key issue is that while graduate careers are constantly changing, public discourse and information is not keeping pace.
The report, Closing The Gap: Unlocking Opportunity Through Higher Education, highlights evidence which it says demonstrates where students are really getting value from their university experience.
Libby Hackett, chief executive of University Alliance, which brings together a group of 22 "innovative and entrepreneurial" universities across the UK, said: "The world is changing fast and we need to drag the public discourse about university education out of the 1970s.
"This is a really important study at a time when there is a lot of confusion about what is a 'good' university choice. There is a huge amount of misinformation out there based on historical perspectives rather than actual evidence.
"The truth is that there is a massive breadth of routes to success and huge diversity of opportunity in the global, technology-rich graduate employment market. This report highlights the fact that traditional universities no longer have the monopoly on all the leading courses across the UK and that 'average' graduate earnings hide a huge range of outcomes across the sector."
The report was welcomed by the Office for Fair Access.
Professor Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: "I am pleased that it challenges the notion that only a small number of universities offer the high-quality degrees that enable social mobility. On the contrary, excellence and opportunity are found throughout the sector.
"As the report rightly argues, the way that public debate focuses on access to a very small number of universities can be unhelpful.
"I also agree that we need to have a more rounded view of access. Access doesn't stop at the front door when a student enrols on their course. It is only meaningful when students also get appropriate support to stay on course, achieve their potential and progress to work or further study."