Ministers and doctors should consider making the drugs available without prescription and for non-medical use, said John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester.
The drugs, which include Ritalin, more commonly prescribed for attention deficit problems, could help students achieve better grades he said.
The drugs can improve concentration and exam scores and although they carry a risk of side effects, these are proportional to the benefits they offer, he added.
His comments come just weeks after American academics called for a similar leniency over the use of the pills.
Writing in Nature, the scientific journal, they claimed that taking “smart drugs” in exams should be seen as a benefit to society.
Professor Harris told the Times Higher Education Supplement: “There are many drugs already prescribed for non-therapeutic reasons (such as the contraceptive pill).”
“Viagra has a medical use, but it is well known that the sales figures are far in excess of the level of dysfunction in society,” he added.
“I’m calling for universities and the Government to recognize that there is nothing wrong in principle with trying to improve your cognitive functioning.
“That’s what people might think education was for if they didn’t understand much about it.”
However, he warned that universities would have to develop policies on the use of such smart drugs in examinations.
“The issue would move from legitimacy to one of fairness and cost,” he said.
He denied taking the cognition-enhancing drugs himself, claiming that they would do little to help his work.
“I’m also towards the end of my career and am perhaps less competitive than I used to be,” he said.
The stimulants are increasingly used by students in an attempt to improve their exam results.
Many of the drugs can be bought over the internet, allowing students to exploit them for their apparent ability to boost concentration.
But they can cause significant side effects.
Potential side effects of Ritalin include mood swings, increased heart rate, headaches, dizziness and insomnia.
Patients can also become hooked on the effects of smart drugs and find it difficult to wean themselves off them.
Earlier this year scientists at Bristol University warned that schools could have to provide the drugs to their pupils within a generation because they could become so widespread that poor children would lose out if they could not afford to buy them.
A spokesman for Novartis, which makes Ritalin, said that any patients concerned about side effects should contact their GP.
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