Lib Dems back 'pay as you train' bid;Autumn conferences
The party also voted overwhelmingly for the abolition of university tuition fees and for students to have access to state handouts such as housing benefit and income support.
Education spokesman Don Foster told the conference that bursaries and pound;5,000 "golden hellos" had attracted maths and science teachers, and that the Government should put its hand in its pocket for other subjects.
Applications for English and history have fallen to the lowest level for six years, he claimed.
"Money does talk," Mr Foster told the conference. "All trainee teachers should be given a starting salary, just as police officers, accountants and civil servants are paid as they train.
"The Government's present policy will only rearrange the chairs on the deck. It will not keep the supply of British teachers afloat."
The main set-piece debate was on the tuition fees.
Student after impassioned student came to the rostrum to record that pupils from less well-off homes were being deterred from higher education because they did not want to be saddled with huge debts.
Geoff Payne, student development officer for the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, said students were now forced to live on pound;25 a week less than someone on full benefits. Up to 18 per cent drop out and 42 per cent work part-time to make ends meet.
He said: "Making students better off on the dole is no way to run a learning society ... And it is a terrible advert for potential members."
The Lib Dems passed a motion calling for students to be given access to housing benefit within the first two years of the next UK parliament and be entitled to income support during the parliament after that.
The number of university applicants has fallen by 2.5 per cent this year, despite an increase in 18 and 19-year-olds, and applications from mature entrants have fallen by 11 per cent.
Jane Blumer, a former comprehensive pupil from Devon, said that under the present system she would never have made it to Oxford.
She said: "My father is retired and my mother is a part-time nurse. They could not have supported me."
Jo Swinson, an undergraduate of the London School of Economics and a student welfare officer, said she had students coming to her distressed by the fact that they were thousands of pounds in debt. Some had paid for tuition fees with their student loans because their parents could not afford to pay them.
Jonathan Hunt, from south London, said students in higher education were better off than those in further education.
He was heckled when he claimed most graduates, although not necessarily becoming fat cats, were "plumply comfortable felines".