Newly qualified teachers are set to enter the profession with thousands of pounds more debt following a government decision to limit eligibility to grants and replace this support with repayable loans.
From September 2010, trainees will have to take out increased loans to support themselves during postgraduate courses after ministers decided to cut back grants for everyone with a household income of more than Pounds 34,000.
Union leaders labelled the cuts a "cynical move" and expressed concerns about the effect they might have on future recruitment - just as targets are finally being met.
The move caught most of the profession unawares, as the Government had said it would not make changes until a review of student finance ends this autumn.
Full details of the changes are far from clear, but David Lammy, the universities minister, said he wanted to "align" postgraduate support with what is available for other students.
It is understood that the Training and Development Agency bursaries, which can be as much as Pounds 9,000, are to remain unchanged.
But unions have criticised the vague wording of Mr Lammy's announcement and are seeking further information about the changes.
Mary Bousted, the ATL's general secretary, said: "This is a cynical move by the Government and will undoubtedly increase the amount of debt among students. Presumably the Government thinks it can get away with cutting and freezing grants because during the recession more young people will want to go on to higher education and there are fewer job options. This is not the way to raise skills levels in the UK."
John Bangs, of the NUT, agreed: "This doesn't help consistency in recruitment, it doesn't help morale and it certainly doesn't help students already in debt after an initial degree.
"The NUT has always argued that, given the dominance of the PGCE, tuition fees and maintenance costs should be fully funded.
"Applications to courses might be healthy, but you cannot rely on the vagaries of the economic downturn to attract teachers - you need consistent recruitment over time."
The Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers is particularly concerned about the effect on those who train in FE colleges, who are not entitled to TDA bursaries.
The Government had promised James Noble Rogers, its executive director, that this would change. He said: "We've done a lot of campaigning on this issue during the past two years and it seemed to be successful, so we are disappointed by this announcement after all that work and the fact the Government has gone back on its agreement."
- Trainees with household incomes up to Pounds 25k continue to receive a Pounds 2,906 grant and Pounds 6,403 in loans.
- Income Pounds 34k: Pounds 1,106 grant and up to Pounds 5,503 in loans.
- Income over Pounds 34k: amount remains the same, but the grant is reduced and loan increased.
- Pounds 45k: a loan of Pounds 4,760 and a grant of Pounds 381.
- Pounds 60k: a Pounds 3,564 loan only.