The crisis has arisen because head teachers are demanding up to pounds 2,000 to take trainees on teaching practice.
Government plans to make student teachers spend two- thirds of their time in the classroom have forced schools to charge for a service which they used to offer free - and colleges say they cannot afford their prices.
Some head teachers have become financially astute since taking charge of their schools' budgets. They are believed to be playing one college off against another, inviting ever- higher bids for placements.
Two universities, Bristol and Southampton, say they may have to drop teacher training altogether. Others are cutting student numbers.
The biggest problems in placing students have come in subjects such as science and modern languages where there is a shortage of teachers, so desperately needed recruits may now be unable to qualify.
Teacher trainers are paying an average of pounds 800 for a student on a one-term placement, and pounds 2,000 a year for students on new schemes based entirely in schools.
The new system comes fully into operation in September 1994, but in many areas it is being implemented early. Many colleges say their students already spend two-thirds of their time in the classroom, but only recently have schools expected to be paid.
Some schools have refused to take part, saying they do not have enough staff to cope, while others are haggling over the price.
Professor Jennifer Latto, who chairs the Polytechnics Council for the Education of Teachers, which will merge with the universities' body at the end of this month, said that students would have to be sent home if placements could not be found for them.
'The situation is extremely volatile. This time next year we could be in a desperate situation on both sides of the partnership,' she said.
At her own institution, Liverpool John Moores University, tutors were still seeking placements for first-year Bachelor of Education students starting in September, she said.
Russell Clarke, assistant secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it now advised its members to charge teacher trainers the full cost of taking a student. 'It would be an absolute tragedy if students had to be sent home next term, but we are all trapped by this policy and you can hardly expect schools to bear the cost of a national training programme,' he said.
The universities of Southampton and Bristol have both said the future of their teacher training courses is in doubt. Katherine Weare, head of the school of education at the University of Southampton, said that it was committed to teacher training but might no longer be able to afford it.
'If the price goes up to about pounds 1,000 it will become uneconomical and we will not so much pull out as be pushed out,' she said.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said money had been made available to smooth the transition to school-based teacher training. 'Because more of the time will be spent in schools, the money will go to the college and they will negotiate with the schools to pay for the places.'Reuse content