How to choose the right DBA?

After initial launch at Harvard Business School in 1922, Henley (UK) in 1991 and Grenoble École de Management (France) in 1993, DBA programmes have started to spread. In 2022, nearly every business school and many other training institutions offer a DBA. Confronted with this profusion of programmes, it is important to know to what you should pay attention.

Programme duration – a DBA is a doctorate, not a super MBA

A DBA programme is a full doctorate targeting practitioners. A DBA programme cannot be reasonably completed within a shorter time than a PhD. Within the EU, the doctorate validates 8 years of higher education, so it is supposed to last for 3 years.

Pursuantly, anyone willing to do a DBA must consider programme length: a programme promising completion within less than 3 years (e.g. 2 years) may cast warn you on its quality, validity and ultimately recognition as a doctorate. Such short programmes may let think that the DBA is a mere extension of the MBA, bearing a risk of having graduates deceived, if the promises made in terms of career-boosting, salary increase or whatsoever are not kept…

A DBA lasts for a while because it rests upon a doctoral thesis requiring time and effort. This all starts with the learning of research mindset and associated protocols.

Programme design – How to do research, not how to do business

A full doctorate, a DBA programme is to equip students with everything they need for doing research. In a valuable DBA programme, students are not left on their own. DBA students have an identified qualified supervisor and attend a number of research-related seminars: research design, literature review, theorising, data collection methodologies, data analysis methodologies, writing up… Doubt can be cast on the validity and ultimate recognition of a DBA with no or limited such teaching.

Some DBA programmes do not offer such teaching, privileging topical hours relating to usual teaching disciplines and business or study trips, as if the DBA were an extension of the MBA. Students do not learn how to do research but how to do business, at odds with the purpose of a doctorate. The implicit promise is that students will broaden their professional network through business interactions.

Although this may be true, how-to-do-research DBA programmes do keep that promise through multiple interactions around research seminars and other social events. Thence, someone seeking for a doctorate and professional network development should opt for a how-to-do-research DBA programme.

Programme experience at DBAs – longevity and number of alumni

Experienced DBA programmes, incumbent in the community, have developed over years and decades of real experience. In particular, as a sound professional is not to be mentored and their research supervised as spring chickens, it is preferable ensuring that the targeted school is experienced at handling this population. You would probably not like to be treated like a first-year student but like a professional adult having something to say and to share!

How to assess this experience? The best-established DBA programmes advertise on their website and social media when they were first launched or how old they are. The longer a programme has existed, the more reassuring this should be for you. These well-established programmes advertise the number of alumni with a higher number being more reassuring and attractive. This experience can easily be traced through periodical announcements of DBA completions on social media. Inexperienced programmes are unlikely to be eloquent on this.

With or without this information, check school or programme accreditations. On the DBA market, three accreditations really count: AACCB, EQUIS and AMBA. A DBA delivered by a school having at least one of them and ideally this triple crown is bound to keep its promises. There is no certainty for non-accredited schools or programmes.

You get what you pay for

With DBA development and increased popularity, business schools are fiercely competing to attract students. As engaging in a DBA programme is always a long-term investment based upon a matured decision, the cost factor is important. In Europe, well-established DBA programmes’ cost may range between 25,000 and 70,000€. In the US, they may cost up to 200,000$. In other parts of the world, you can find some for 5,000€. It could be very tempting to opt for the cheapest option, thinking it is a bargain: a big return on a low investment… What about risk?

A low-price DBA may not be able to keep its promises… Teaching may not be as rigorous as it should be. Doctoral supervision may be distant and loose. Admin support may be minimal. Research resources (library, research software licences, IT, etc.) may be insufficient… At the end of the day, you may need to pay extra to access a number of things that are not provided. In pricier programmes, no such surprises.

A DBA is a mentor-mentee relationship for which you need to have the right supervisor from the beginning. In some schools, one is appointed at a relatively late stage. Until then, you will be on your own and have very limited if not no guidance for a while. Some others have one person, e.g. the programme director, supervising all students. Can this person be good at all sorts of topics and approaches? Will this person be available and responsive?

Accredited schools with higher fees take supervision very seriously and appoint the right supervisor from the beginning. This person is someone having expertise in your topic and approach. It is someone between whom and yourself this chemistry develops and foremost someone you trust and who is supportive of yourself and your work.

So, how to choose a DBA?

When browsing DBA programmes, you should first search for reputation: longevity and experience, where alumni are working, testimonials from alumni, programme structure and duration (at least 3 years) and a reasonable cost (50,000-70,000€). Do not hesitate to liaise with the contact person in charge and ask questions. If you only have evasive answers, this may not be a good sign.

Vassili JOANNIDES de LAUTOUR is the Director of the Doctoral School at Grenoble Ecole de Management, Adjunct Prof. at Queensland University of Technology and the University of Parma, Editor of the Palgrave Studies in Accounting & Finance Practices and a member of the EFMD Doctoral Steering Committee.

This article is republished from LinkedIn Pulse with the permission of the author.