Universities are losing thousands of potential trainee teachers to employment-based teacher-training schemes, a report suggests.
Teaching students are being lured away from universities by in-school training programmes that offer some graduates the chance to qualify in as little as three months while getting paid.
Alan Smithers of Buckingham University, who co-produced the annual teacher-training league tables, said: "I think the pendulum could move away from the direction of university courses."
The rankings show a rising number of students on employment-based schemes. "With the £3,000 postgraduate certificate in education [PGCE] fee, the demand for employment-based places is likely to grow," he said.
The report shows that recent increases in teacher training numbers have occurred largely outside the university sector. This year, nearly 20,000 students are training for secondary teaching - a quarter more than in 1998. But the number enrolled on university courses has increased by 149, compared with more than 3,600 extra students in employment-based schemes.
Graduate teacher programmes in schools account for most of the growth, with a more modest rise in the numbers undertaking schools-centred initial teacher training.
"Here we don't have any problem recruiting for our PGCE course," said Mike Younger, director of teaching at Cambridge University's faculty of education. "It may be a problem in some areas, but I don't see the two programmes in competition. The graduate teacher programme is a very constructive route into the profession for some people.
"One advantage of the university course is the greater numbers of students, which improves peer support. Students are taught by specialist teachers. And the quality of graduate teacher programmes is more uneven, according to Ofsted," Mr Younger said.
But university courses risked becoming less useful because of pressure to conform to criteria imposed by the research assessment exercise, Professor Smithers said. Teacher training at universities can become "academicised, which is not always of great help when dealing with Year 3" pupils.
The report suggests that the move away from universities is already having an impact on the types of people going into teaching. School-based and employment-based programmes have proved more successful than universities in attracting underrepresented groups, it shows. Men, ethnic minorities and people over 25 years old are more likely to opt for on-the-job training than for a traditional college course.
The report ranks the teacher-training programmes of 73 universities by the qualifications of their applicants, Ofsted assessments and trainees'
success in finding jobs on graduation.
Oxford, Cambridge and Staffordshire universities were the top three. Bradford College, London Metropolitan and London South Bank universities also ranked highly.