Teacher training course leaders have been warned not to make any firm offers to students before October's comprehensive spending review (CSR) amid predictions that the sector is facing drastic cuts.
Universities have attacked the "anxiety" caused by having to wait until the autumn to hear if their budgets will be axed.
The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) has written to training colleges telling them not to make offers or "promises" to potential students, or give details about the funding available to them.
Colleges traditionally start assessing applications in September - but the CSR will not take place until the following month. Senior academic staff have warned that uncertainty over funding will jeopardise recruitment of new trainees. They say they have been left in limbo over how many teachers they will be able to train in 2011, despite starting recruitment next month.
"We recognise you wish to start recruiting; our advice remains the same. Avoid making firm unconditional offers until we have confirmed your allocation," Jeremy Coninx, TDA director of funding, wrote in the letter.
Bursaries for trainees and "golden hellos" - payments to those who teach shortage subjects - are also under review.
Roger Woods, chair of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "The TDA will obviously make a decision based on what's available to them, but if they cut bursaries and golden hellos there's a danger that will have an impact on recruitment.
"The fact there might be cuts is a big worry and there is a lot of uncertainty at universities."
Kit Field, dean of education at Wolverhampton University, agreed. "This makes planning difficult; there is uncertainty but we don't blame the TDA. (Education Secretary) Michael Gove has said he won't cut front-line services - what we want to know is what is front line?
"Does teacher training count? We need to prepare for the fact that numbers in 2011 could change," he said.
The TDA has again warned lecturers that if they over-recruit students they will have to foot course costs themselves. In the past, they could go 6 per cent over target. Overall numbers are decided by the Department for Education, and allocated to universities by the TDA based on their Ofsted performance.
"It's very hard for universities to work in this way, particularly those who run undergraduate courses where students apply to lots of other places," said Des Hewitt, assistant head of teacher education at Derby University.
Universities also fear expensive teacher training courses, such as the four-year undergraduate course, could be axed.
Training is gaining
Recruitment in the past academic year was "buoyant", according to the TDA, but there is a "growing" need for more primary teachers.
Numbers training to be a teacher on postgraduate courses have doubled in ten years, from 5,240 in 1999 to 11,441 in 2009. The numbers training on undergraduate courses have stayed static, from 5,795 in 1999 to 6,228 in 2009.
Half of all trainee teachers are now aged over 25, compared to 46 per cent ten years ago. Fewer new primary teachers found jobs in 2009; 78 per cent got their QTS status and a teaching post compared to 80 per cent in 2008.
- Original headline: Training colleges warned not to promise places as cuts loom