An international student adviser at the University of Plymouth has been sounding out other institutions about allowing extra reading time in exams to students whose first language is not English.
Pat Blower is also seeking views on allowing the use of English or bilingual dictionaries in exams as part of a review of exam procedures at the university.
The idea was condemned by experts and academic standards campaigners. Alan Smithers, professor of education and director of the Centre for Education and Policy Research at Liverpool University, said: "This could be the beginning of a very slippery slope. The degree is taken as a quality mark of what you can achieve, and students will be presenting it as a qualification for occupations throughout the world.
"If they use it to apply for a job in England or the United States, for example, but it then emerges that they do not even have a mastery of the English language - what does this mean for the reputation of British universities' degrees?" Colwyn Williamson, of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards, said universities did not have the resources to provide proper back-up and support to all students, such as language and essay-writing skills, in advance of exams, so exam standards were lowered.
A spokeswoman for Plymouth said the university was reviewing its exam procedures but there were no formal plans to allow special dispensation to overseas students.