Those who get degrees from "new" universities -institutions dating from 1992 onwards - deliver £51 to the public purse for every pound of investment, compared to £85 provided by so-called "higher" apprentices, according to the report.
Campaign group Million Jobs said university graduates as a whole generated a return of £57 per pound of investment, 27 per cent less than those who complete top-level apprenticeships.
The only "new" university degree course to provide a more favourable per pound return compared to higher apprentices is medicine at £86 per pound of investment, the report said.
Higher apprenticeships incorporate work-based learning programmes and lead to a qualification ranging from the equivalent to a higher education certificate up to master's degrees.
The report blamed lower returns associated with university degrees, particularly those from post-1992 universities, on factors including graduate debt being written off, differences in earnings and the "considerably larger" investment required to produce returns compared to those for apprenticeships.
Richard Grice, chief executive of Pera Training, which provides manufacturing apprenticeships, said the study "underlines the dismal taxpayer returns at some ends of the higher education spectrum".
Marion Osborne, director of the Million Jobs campaign, said: "A degree is often not the most effective route to maximise employment prospects."