School leavers should be given £10,000 of taxpayers' money to continue their education, a study suggests.
It says that every young person in England, as well as adults who did not go to university, should be given state funding to use towards university tuition fees, or the cost of other qualifications.
The move would help to boost adult and further education, and encourage take-up of a wider range of courses, the research paper argues.
Such a scheme - dubbed a "national learning entitlement", or NLE - would cost the public purse around £8.5 billion a year, the study authors calculate.
The paper, published by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economics Societies (LLAKES) at the UCL Institute of Education, proposes every young person become eligible for the funding on their 18th birthday.
They would be given access to funds to spend on courses, up to a maximum of £5,000 a year for two years - £10,000 in total.
The money could be used towards full-time degree courses, the authors suggest, or for other forms of education such as part-time study, and could be spread out over a lifetime if necessary.
The proposal would mean that tuition fees for university students would effectively be cut, as they could put £5,000 towards the cost for the first two years of their course.
Students would then still get loans to cover the the rest of their tuition fees - which currently stand at up to £9,250 a year for English universities.
The funding would also be available to adults who have not studied for a degree, but want to return to education.
The authors estimate that a "national learning entitlement" (NLE) would cost £8.5 billion a year, taking into account funding for 18-year-olds, and adults without degrees, as well as factors such as extra money for institutions that offer high-cost courses such as medicine and funding to encourage new courses.
There are a number of advantages to such a system, the paper says, including spreading public cash beyond university students to those who do not want to study for a degree as well as adults who want to go back into studying, and encouraging a wider range of courses.
"Instead of a monoculture of full-time three-year degrees we will see a proliferation of offers suiting tastes of all kinds," it says.
The paper argues: "The proposal takes the debate beyond the current narrow focus on university education and student debt, to a broader and more inclusive system which would encourage learning at all ages by a diverse range of students, at a lower cost than the abolition of university fees."
It adds: "By going beyond university students the NLE spreads public subsidy far more equitably and efficiently.
"It brings into play the other 50% of the youth cohort, as well as adults who have missed out first time round. It strongly encourages diversity of provision and so matches supply better to demand.
"It wins on fairness, efficiency and future orientation."