Young women are earning up to £15,000 a year by taking up pole dancing, escort work and prostitution to help fund their studies.
The trend has been blamed on the rising cost of higher education, which will see some students graduate with projected debts of up to £53,000, and the proliferation of websites that facilitate opportunities for anonymous sex work.
One website connects students with businessmen seeking 'discreet adventures' and who are prepared to pay them for varying levels of sexual intimacy.
According to research by the University of Leeds, a quarter of lap dancers had a degree and a third of the women spoken to for the study were taking on lap dancing work to help fund training in other professions.
Some reported physical and verbal harassment from clients and said they were forced to work in dangerous conditions.
University of Kingston research from 2010 indicated that 25 per cent of students knew someone who had worked in the sex industry to fund their studies, while in 1990 the figure was only three per cent.
Some 16 per cent of students were found to be open to the idea of sex work while more than 10 per cent considered working as an escort.
Dr Tracey Sagar, of Swansea University, who is working on a three-year project to give advice and support to student sex workers in Wales, said the authorities were not yet fully aware of the changing nature of student jobs.
She told The Independent: "Universities are not dealing with this issue. It is not on the radar of welfare or support organisations within education."
An investigation by the newspaper found that a website was claiming to have arranged for 1,400 women aged between 17 and 24 to be given 'scholarships' by male 'sponsors' in exchange for sexual activity.
The company offered young women 'up to 100VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%