Let me try to respond to Dave Russell as politely as I can.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from elitism is dumbing down. I know nothing of the education systems outside England so, conversely, I expect some of LG's foreign readers may well be puzzled by my earlier references. For their possible interest, there used to be two distinct types of Further Education establishment in England (I simplify somewhat).
Coming as I do from India, I fall somewhere in between "total foreigners" and the "UK locals". Just call me a "colonial" or "coolie" for short---I promise not to take offence.
University - a place of academic excellence, awarding degrees. Polytechnic - providing practical training, leading to qualifications such as "City & Guilds", HNC and HND.
The following story is told about three students from the IIT's at Kanpur, Delhi, Madras who go for an interview. The ceiling fan in the interview room is not working. The candidate is asked for an opinion.
IITK Candidate: Actually, what this building needs is a centralised air-conditioning plant that takes into account the weather conditions in this city which is in the tropics and is near the sea. I have a few research papers on the solution of the partial differential equations that arise when one takes all these factors into account. MIT has given me a doctoral fellowship to study these aspects of the Carnot cycle in greater detail. At the same time the mathematics department at Harvard feels that I should instead expand on the very unusual use of wavelets in my solutions.
IITD Candidate: Here are my designs that improve upon certain air-conditioning units that are being developed at General Electric (in the USA) so that they will work well for the Indian consumer. I am looking for ways in which I can patent these or join up with GE to produce these for the mass market.
IITM Candidate: Hold on. Takes out a screwdriver. Opens the switch board and mutters "Regulator is bust". Goes off to the neighbourhood hardware store and returns with some fine copper wire. Then re-wires the regulator and soon the fan is working.
The amazing thing about this story is that each of the IIT's felt that the story was a way of complimenting them on the students they produced!
IMNSHO, "academic excellence" or "awarding degrees" alone only leads to more tree felling (or toxic e-waste in the modern world) in the pointless pursuit of awards, while "partical training" alone will produce people who will resist change due their ineptness at adapting. A true university should impart training in using both halves of the brain.
The entry requirements for a Poly would invariably be considerably lower than for University. Each had its own well-defined function, and there was little overlap.
If I have learned anything in my N years of involvement with academic world it is this---input and output are not so closely correlated. The lack of overlap has probably harmed all of those who went in to these "systems".