Students from the Cambridge University Student Union's Living Wage Campaign found that more than 1,000 employees at the famous institution were earning below the £7.65-an-hour level commonly accepted as the amount needed for workers to live a decent life.
Only three colleges which responded to a Freedom of Information request - Homerton, Hughes Hall and St Catharine's - reported that they were paying all their staff the living wage.
Fiona Woolston, from the union, said: "The living wage is about respect.
"It's about acknowledging that every person who contributes to the success of this university should have the right to an appropriate standard of living for themselves, their families, or be able to confidently save for such a future.
"The Cambridge Vice Chancellor now earns £334,000 in contrast to £14,789 earned a year by a member of staff on the living wage; however, many staff do not even receive this."
According to the research, the university itself employs 83 workers paid below the living wage, while between them the colleges employ 1,113 who do not receive at least £7.65 per hour.
King's College confirmed that it paid 123 staff less than the living wage, with Clare College the next highest at 85.
The living wage is an informal benchmark and, unlike the national minimum wage, is not a legally enforceable minimum level of pay.
It is currently set by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University and has received widespread political support.
The union also discovered that 906 members of staff are on controversial zero-hours contracts, meaning their earnings from week to week are insecure.
The university itself employed 343 people on such contracts, with Robinson College having 99, King's College 94 and St John's College and Jesus College employing 50 people each on such deals.
In a statement, the University of Cambridge said pay scales at the university itself were set from national pay bargaining while individual colleges determined their own pay rates.
"Within the university, the majority of jobs below the living wage are generally trainee grades or individuals on zero hours contracts - i.e. they work when there is some work to do, but there is no obligation to provide a set number of hours of work in any period," a spokesman added.