Nearly half of academics (48%) do not believe students are well prepared for university, a Times Higher Education poll of 1,150 higher education staff found.
“Each year, the entry requirements for undergraduate programmes are reduced, meaning we get a high number of students who are almost illiterate,” one professor complained.
The study found that more than a third (39%) of academics think students are “intellectually less able” or less well prepared than previous generations.
However, lecturers said institutions were failing to provide additional resources to teach these less academically-able students.
A creative arts professor said: “When 45% of of school-leavers go to university, standards must be different from what they were when 7% did - we should be open about that and welcome it... but universities pretend otherwise.”
Academics also reported worries about the “work ethic and motivation” of their students.
More than half (52%) said students turned up to class without doing the required reading. Only 24% deemed their students well-prepared for seminars and lectures.
“Few students will read the material on the reading list, [relying] instead solely on lecture handouts or PowerPoint slides,” one law lecturer said.
“Noticeable numbers of law students will not read a judgement in full to discover the full reasoning of the judge for their decision and, instead, rely on summaries.”
Despite this, 88% of professors said teaching was a source of satisfaction.
A Department for Education spokesman told the Daily Mail: ‘Our GCSE and A-level reforms will create qualifications that match the best education systems in the world. But we want to keep improving the quality of schools, so more students of all backgrounds have the grades and the confidence to apply to the best universities, and be successful in exams.
‘With a record high proportion of people from state schools entering university, we are giving more students the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Around 85% of respondents in the Times Higher Education survey were from 130 UK institutions, though staff from regions including the US, Canada, Australia, Europe and Asia also took part.