Education officials hope to coax a third of Emiratis out of regular state schools and into technical schools over the next four years.
The specialist facilities prepare pupils age 15 to 18 for careers in aerospace, nuclear energy, the semiconductor industry, and other vocational sectors.
There are four Applied Technology High School (Aths) campuses in Abu Dhabi and one each in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
There are also four Secondary Technical Schools (STS) in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, some of which are housed on Aths campuses.
Five new STS campuses will be built this year in the capital, Al Ain, Al Mafraa and Ajman. STS pupils follow a more practical, skills-based programme, while Aths pupils have an academic course load.
"Both campuses combined plan to take 30 per cent of the Emirati pupils in Abu Dhabi by 2016," said Abdullatif Al Shamsi, managing director of the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT). The education at these schools, he said, is more aligned to labour market needs than government schools."We are the only high school that sends pupils for internships with companies here and abroad to gain professional work skills," he said. "More than 90 per cent of the pupils graduating from ATHS enter engineering programmes at universities in the UK, France and Germany. Many also join the Abu Dhabi Polytechnic and Dubai Men's College."
Warren Baugher, principal of the Aths in Dubai, said there was a high demand for such education among Emirati parents.
His campus already has 885 pupils and received 800 applications for the new academic year, starting in September. They accepted 250 for the Aths programme and will also enrol a first batch of 125 for the STS programme.
Calvert Jones, a doctoral candidate from Yale who researched the efficacy of Aths campuses, warned it is mainly children of educated and wealthy parents who benefit.
"As with any reform, the possibility arises that those who are not included in the reform may be left behind, particularly if the reform is effective," her report says. "One potentially unintended consequence of education reform for the knowledge economy, then, may be increased stratification and social strain."