They say that the lack of interest in teaching threatens to undermine the Government's drive to reduce class sizes and boost literacy and numeracy.
The drop affects all types of courses. Applications for four-year B.Ed courses are down by 15 per cent compared with this time last year. Applications for postgraduate courses are down by 7.4 per cent overall - secondary PGCE courses by 10.85 per cent and primary by 4.66 per cent.
The news will fuel fears of teacher shortages in the classroom - the situation in some subjects such as maths and physics is already critical. The figures will prove disappointing for the Teacher Training Agency which has being trying to improve the image and status of teaching through its cinema advertising campaign and new qualifications. It also shows that the Government's decision to waive tuition fees for PGCE students has not helped.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions service, said the figures reflected a buoyant economy and the more seductive pay and benefits offered by other jobs.
"There has been a significant fall in applications for PGCE courses and when UCAS publishes its figures you will see an extremely dramatic fall in applications for undergraduate teacher training," he said.
Jane Benham, TTA head of teacher supply, admitted that applications were down by 15 per cent for four-year courses and said that applications were down on last year in all subjects apart from information technology, PE and RE.
John Howson, a consultant on teacher supply, said that "the profession is on a knife edge". "The situation is getting worse week by week. Secondary applications are the lowest in five years. Now that primary applications are also suffering, it is difficult to see how the Government is going to fulfil its commitment to reduce class sizes."
He added that the staged 3.8 per cent pay settlement may be putting even more young people off.
"If 18 to 21-year-olds are put off going into teaching now, we will have a disaster. We are now looking at three parallel crises - a shortage of entrants, a shortage in middle management and senior staff leaving."
* Ministers will today announce Pounds 11 million for headteacher training.
Leader, PAGE 18