Some academics at a university are saying they can feel pressurised into passing poor quality work in order to meet business targets.
The university said it was confident about its standards
The comments by tutors at Southampton Solent University were secretly filmed for a BBC Inside Out investigation.
Dr Karen Randell, who runs the film studies degree, also admits 25% of her students should not be at university.
The university said in a statement: "We have found no evidence to support the allegations."
A spokesman added: "We are certain that the comments of dedicated and conscientious staff have been grossly misrepresented."
The undercover investigation looked at the work of 40 students and three lecturers working on two modules on two degree courses - film studies and television studies.
Secret filming was carried out by a part-time lecturer who was unhappy with standards.
Footage showed Dr Randell saying she was "challenged from the top" if she failed students.
"It's all about business," she said.
"It's got nothing to do with education or pedagogy or anything. This is the cynical real world of higher education."
She also said lecturers were "remedial teachers at some level" to a number of students.
"These people have been failures all their lives," she said.
"That is why we hold back. Why we don't automatically say it's failed. We have to really make a big decision that it's failed.
"Even though you can see this is absolutely rubbish, you have to look at the wider picture."
In a marking meeting for the film studies course, senior lecturer, Jennifer Toynbee-Holmes, passes student essays she describes as "crap" and "illiterate".
She admits grades are inflated to fit in with the system: "If we didn't care about how many students we had and how many dropped out, we'd mark very differently, I can tell you that.
"If we were really marking as according to what we felt, we would drop a grade for everybody I would say."
The university spokesperson added that staff "completely reject the interpretation placed upon the selective excerpts taken from conversations that were secretly filmed without their knowledge or consent".
"They feel intruded upon, angry and deceived by someone they believed was just an inexperienced colleague whom they were attempting to support.
"We are proud of our staff and our students. We remain confident about our standards."
The programme makers said only a minority of the work on each course was of a "questionable standard".
Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools and now a professor at the University of Buckingham, said he was staggered by the footage.
"It shows what a nonsense higher education is now. It's a vast waste of taxpayers' money," he said.
"I just feel for young people, who are wasting three years of their lives, who are ending up with a degree which won't have any intellectual meaning and which won't have any currency in the workplace."
The Department for Education said in a statement: "Despite massive expansion of student numbers over the last decade, the financial returns to higher education have remained strong.
"It is right that we try to get more money into our universities to fund expansion - all talented young people, whatever their background, should have the chance to engage in good quality higher education."
The report will be shown on Inside Out, Monday at 7.30pm on BBC1.