Universities are taking poor-quality students merely to fill places on courses, academics have told MPs completing a major investigation on the state of teacher training in the UK.
The profession won't be highly regarded until it attracts the best graduates and universities have more freedom to pioneer new kinds of programmes, influential figures have told the Children, Schools and Families select committee.
Universities have also complained to the inquiry that their creativity is being stifled by regular Ofsted inspections and the constant need to submit evidence in order to attract government funding.
Chris Husbands, dean of the faculty of culture and pedagogy at the Institute of Education, University of London, told the committee that he envied programmes such as Teach First, which attract Oxbridge candidates.
"In order to fill places, many universities are having to go down the ability range. This has led to a culture of teaching not being highly regarded," he said. "We desperately need to jack up the entrant quality on teacher training courses."
But Roger Woods, chair of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said intelligence was not the only quality of a good teacher.
"If we only look for high-achieving graduates we will be missing out on some people who would be excellent," he said.
"I think the key is to get teachers to take ownership of their training for the next generation and become much more involved. We are moving towards that - but far too slowly."
Despite her programme's insistence on a top degree, Sonia Blandford, director of leadership development for Teach First, agreed with Professor Woods. "We should not be excluding people based on their intellect, but choosing them on the basis of what they can bring to the profession," she said.
Figures released by the Graduate Teacher Training Registry show that more than 38,500 people applied to become teachers in the past year - up 20 per cent on 2008. The recession is understood to be a significant factor. Secondary course applications are up 29 per cent to 22,160 compared with April 2008, while those for primary courses rose 10 per cent to 19,293.
Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, said he wanted the standing of the profession to rise.
The meeting was the second the committee has held to discuss teacher training.