Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, admitted he would be pleased if the number recruited was the same as last year.
That would mean a drop of nearly 2,000 against this year's target of 29,720 in England. Last year, 27,940 students were recruited to courses in England and Wales.
Both Mr Tabberer and school standards minister Estelle Morris believe things would have been worse, without the new pound;6,000 training salaries for postgraduate students.
"We were looking at a potential drop in graduate applications of up to 20 per cent. The salaries have prevented that decline and there has been a small increase in total acceptances," said Ms Morris. "It is difficult tobelieve how many graduates we need in teaching - 27,000 a year. No one else in the private or public sector comes close to that. With a booming economy, graduates are hard to recruit."
The latest figures cover postgraduate courses only. They show secondary acceptances up 193 (1.6 per cent), and primary up 1,001 (16 per cent) on last year.However, most primary staff take the BEd undergraduate route, while most secondary students take the postgraduate route.
The agency is now keen to cater better for career-changers, as half of new teachers are aged over 25. It is expanding "flexible" and employment-based routes such as part-time courses and the oversubscribed graduate teacher programme. The latter allows people to train "on the job" on a salary of up to pound;13,000. Places on this will double to 1,500 over the current year.