Dr Roberts said universities were "burying their heads in the sand"
The number of university students who know someone who has worked in the sex industry to fund their studies has gone up from "3% to 25% in 10 years".
A study by Doctor Ron Roberts of Kingston University on students' relationship with the sex industry also found 11% would consider escort work.
He said high tuition fees had driven students to work as lap dancers and for chat lines and internet pornography.
The government said it provided "generous" financial support.
Dr Roberts told BBC Somerset that his survey of several hundred university students also found that 16% would consider working in the sex industry.
Although his survey was conducted at one London university, he said the rest of his research had found these findings were indicative of the entire country, particularly in urban areas.
He attributed this to the rising level of student debt and the proliferation of lap dancing clubs.
"Sexual imagery is everywhere. The middle classes are now kind of entering sex work and seeing it as a viable career path. The whole moral climate has altered substantially," he said.
Chloe, a student from a West Country university, said she started lap dancing because it was the only way she could afford to fund her studies.
"If I've got deadlines or assignments that have to be in it is really hard but on the other side, if I didn't do my dancing, I wouldn't be able to afford to be at university."
Another student who had worked sending sex texts said he did it for not only the money, but because the hours suited him.
Carrie Hale, who runs the lap dancing club Central Chambers in Bristol said lap dancing was ideal because students could not get day jobs and bar and waitress work was badly paid.
And one escort agency said they were specifically looking for students as they could "go to nice places, meet some really nice guys and earn a bit of pocket money".
Dr Roberts said his findings were "worrying". He added that it had been very difficult to conduct the research because universities actively discouraged research into students working in the sex industry.
He said one former employer had reacted badly to a previous study he carried out on the subject as it had "hit international press in India which was a big market for the university".
Dr Roberts blamed tuition fees for the rise in students undertaking such work and accused universities of "burying their heads in the sand".
He added: "Universities need to take this more seriously and listen to what the students are saying.
"I think students are getting badly let down here and aren't getting, at the very least, adequate support."
A spokesperson for Bath University said: "We have checked with both our Students' Union and with our Student Services department and neither feel that this issue is relevant to the University of Bath."
And Bath Spa University said: "We have no evidence at all that our students are getting involved in the sex trade.
"It may be the case that some are, of course, but we generally get to hear of potential problems that may affect students' work or wellbeing, and there's been no indication here, so we can safely assume that it's not an issue, I think."
The National Union of Students said it would be "deeply concerned" if students were being pressurised into working as escorts, "either by particular organisations, or by the more general pressures of student debt".
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills said undergraduates received non-repayable support as well as subsidised student loans for tuition fees.