Analysis by John Howson, deputy director of the university's education department, suggests that current applications for training to teach maths are running at only 132 per 100 places available. For modern languages the rate is 134; for science it is 147 and for music 125.
Universities will wish to reject many of these candidates so this leaves the system perilously short, said Mr Howson. "There is no sign yet of a late rush to apply. It's very worrying." Well-staffed subjects such as history and primary education have nearly twice as many applicants as places.
Earlier this year the chairman of the new Teacher Training Agency, Geoffrey Parker, warned that the profession is heading for a repeat of the shortages of the late 1980s unless steps are taken to broaden its appeal. "An upturn in the economy suggests that over the next two or three years . . . we might reach crisis point," he told a London conference of headteachers in February.
Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said some institutions would be short of their target numbers in subjects such as maths, science and modern languages even if they accepted all this year's applicants. Last year a number of universities and colleges failed to recruit up to their full numbers, blaming a shortage of applicants and a lack of suitable placements in schools. Next month they will discover if they are to be punished for this shortfall by the funding authorities.
According to Mr Howson, the system will be placed under more strain by the rising numbers of secondary pupils and the fact that many maths and science teachers are comparatively near retirement. In secondary maths, the targets set by the Department for Education will rise from 2,270 in 199596 to 2,560 in 199798 to cope with these factors.
The universities reported earlier this year that schools were pulling out of training schemes because they were unwilling to shoulder the burden envisaged under the Government's school-based training regulations.
Secondary trainees must now spend two-thirds of their time in school. As a result, says the UCET, there are not enough classroom placements in shortage subjects.