Dozens of teacher training courses will shut unless academics spend months "horse-trading" in an effort to keep them open, universities have warned.
Government cuts to teacher training mean many secondary PGCE programmes are now "financially unviable". From September some will have as few as four places.
Course leaders say their only solution is to "swap" with other universities. The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) allows them to exchange places in one subject for more on another.
There is growing anger from universities at the Government's decision to cut secondary course numbers by almost 6,000. Almost half of places on business studies and art courses have been axed. Music, RE, PE and design and technology course numbers have shrunk by a third.
Numerous universities have lost at least 20 per cent of their training places. On top of this, many grade-A providers - those rated outstanding by Ofsted and entitled to train more people - believe they have been unfairly treated. Grade-B and C universities have lost similar numbers to those who are top-rated.
Grade-A provider King's College London has lost almost half of its biology and RE training places. Course leaders are angrily "petitioning" the TDA to explain the situation.
"We don't think this is fair and we can't understand the rationale behind it," said Simon Gibbons, director of secondary PGCE programmes.
"The only solution for many providers will now be horse-trading. In meetings, staff from the TDA have told us they have no desire to micro-manage us, but cynics would say allocating universities such small numbers means they don't want the courses to run."
Chris Husbands, Institute of Education director and a member of the TDA board, agreed some kind of trading was inevitable.
"It's clear some courses are not going to be viable. Some providers have very small numbers but their decision on whether to keep on running programmes depends on their other provision and the way they employ staff," he said.
"There will be some really tough choices coming for providers. The way to solve these problems will be for them to collaborate with other universities and schools to create sustainable structures."
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), said: "Providers are in a very difficult situation and if they have low numbers for a particular course they might wonder if there is any point in running it. The TDA's regional leaders will have to broker many deals for place-swapping."
Universities will not be told how much they can spend on each pupil until March. UCET predicts this "unit of funding" could be cut by 12-15 per cent. The Government's review of initial teacher training is due to start later this month.