The government is plotting to kill off undergraduate teacher training, university education departments have warned.
Representatives of higher education institutions have demanded reassurances from ministers amid growing fears that the three-year courses are facing the axe.
This would lead to a complete overhaul of the current training system - around 7,500 people a year still start undergraduate training.
The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers has written to Schools Minister Jim Knight requesting an urgent meeting after receiving a host of unconfirmed reports that the courses could close.
B.Ed courses have long been criticised as expensive and unsuitable for attracting the brightest candidates. The average A-level grades needed to get a place are just CDD.
UCET executive director James Noble-Rogers said he was worried by recent comments suggesting the Government and the Training and Development Agency were against the continuation of undergraduate teacher training.
In his letter to Mr Knight, he refers to the TDA wanting to scrap B.Eds in order to fund the new masters degree in teaching and learning.
The current Children, Schools and Families select committee enquiry into teacher training and continuing professional development is examining the role of B.Ed degrees and their financial value.
"Critics of three or four-year education degrees seem to think getting rid of them is good value for money, and from the TDA's perspective it would save money, but teachers would still need a degree, so the cost to the taxpayer would just be transferred," Mr Noble-Rogers said.
"UCET wants to keep a mixed market of teacher training and we are not against other non-university based routes into the profession. If you close one type of training, there's no way of knowing the impact this will have."
Professor John Howson, from research and information firm Education Data Surveys, a sister company of The TES, said there has long been concern about the low Ucas tariffs compared to the number of high-quality candidates being turned away from PGCE courses.
"One solution might be to keep B.Eds, but lower the number of places to around 1,000 at just five or so institutions, which would allow universities to fill those places with the best-quality applicants," he said.
Former education secretary Estelle Morris, who decided to take a B.Ed after failing one of her A-levels, said their closure is "something worth looking at".
"It doesn't qualify me to do anything but teach. The degree was very classroom-focused and there wasn't the opportunity to do any pedagogical work," she said.
B.Ed courses ended at Exeter University in the mid-1990s because lecturers were unhappy with the quality of applicants. Since then the university has rapidly expanded its PGCE programmes.
Professor Deborah Myhill, head of initial teacher training, said: "The PGCE is very packed, and you could do a lot more in two years. But because you also get a high calibre of students, they already know how to study and have the maturity to tackle difficult subjects. We also have many mature students already used to the workplace, so we don't have to cover much of what is taught in the B.Ed."
However a TDA spokesman insisted that there was "absolutely no truth" in the suggestion that the TDA "supports the end of undergraduate teacher training degrees".
Editorial, page 2
RISE AND FALL
Research by the Policy Exchange shows that the B.Ed is in relative decline. In 2001, the same number of teachers were recruited from B.Ed and PGCE courses - 6,580. But by 200607, the proportions had changed: 7,940 PGCE graduates had jobs, but the number of B.Eds employed had only increased by around 300, while more arrived via on-the-job training like Teach First. The numbers of B.Eds employed in secondary schools fell from 1,520 in 200001 to 1,170 five years later.