What’s the difference between a PhD and a DBA at business school?

difference between a PhD and a DBA

The MBA is incredibly well-known throughout the business school world. Even those who haven’t worked in or studied business education might have heard references to celebrities or well-known business figures embarking on an MBA to further their business acumen. Yet, most people don’t seem to realise that becoming a Doctor in Business Administration is a possibility. Management education PR experts Kyle Grizzell and Stephanie Mullins from BlueSky Education take a closer look. 

With only around 275 programmes globally, despite the 13,000 business schools worldwide, the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) is considered to be a lesser-known business degree than the MBA.

In pursuing a doctorate, most probably envision an individual embarking on a PhD. But exactly what is a PhD, and how does it differ from the DBA? Whilst a DBA is equivalent to a PhD, there are fundamental differences between the two doctoral degrees.

A DBA is a business-oriented professional doctorate which, like a PhD, is one of the highest postgraduate qualifications you can obtain. The DBA focuses on providing practical and innovative business management knowledge for application in a workplace, perfect for senior managers, consultants, and entrepreneurs who want to enhance their practical skills.

Who offers a DBA?

The DBA offered by Aalto University Executive Education in Finland is one such degree stated to be designed for individuals with considerable managerial experience looking to develop their professional competence.

DBAs can also be specialised for various sectors. For example, the UCL Global Business School for Health (GBSH) offers a DBA Health for individuals who want the skills to address health sector challenges.

Nora Colton, Director of the UCL GBSH, explains, “The DBA is often confused with a PhD, which many professionals don’t associate with themselves. Many will get an MBA and then focus on executive education and short courses for lifelong learning rather than return for a degree such as a DBA.”

Professor Brecht Cardoen, Academic Director of the DBA at Vlerick Business School in Belgium, acknowledges that the DBA can be confusing, especially as some include PhD aspects, “Some vary between three and five years, and may not include a PhD. Those like the Vlerick DBA are a blended doctoral programme with a joint PhD degree from Ghent University and KU Leuven.”

Another DBA offered jointly between two institutions is the Global DBA: Durham-emlyon (GDBA). A part-time executive doctoral programme delivered by Durham University Business School in the UK and emlyon business school in France, this GDBA allows participants to study at different locations around the world, developing business leaders with accelerated personal development and enhanced careers.

So, how does a PhD compare?

Whilst also a doctorate degree and similarly one of the highest postgraduate qualifications, PhDs involve undertaking original research in a narrow field. A PhD from a business school provides an individual with a specialised and research-based background for a topic in business management; one of the key reasons it is sought after by those who want to work in business-related academia or research.

For example, the PhD in Business Administration at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business (NU GSB) in Kazakhstan is designed for those who aspire to become faculty members at leading academic institutions or conduct applied research in relevant organisations.

One of NU GSB’s academic partners is Duke University Fuqua School of Business in the US, which also offers a PhD in Business Administration. Similarly, their course prepares candidates for research and teaching careers at leading educational institutions and for careers requiring advanced research and analytical capabilities.

At the University of Mannheim Business School, the Center for Doctoral Studies in Business (CDSB) offers PhD programmes in a number of areas, one of which is a PhD in Management. This programme covers important fields within modern business, such as corporate social responsibility, international management, and small- and medium-sized enterprises. Graduates of the CDSB have been published in top academic journals, as have those from NEOMA Business School’s PhD in Management, an important aspect for individuals graduating with a PhD.

Similar to the GDBA: Durham-emlyon, the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM) offers a PhD pathway influenced by the union of multiple schools. The International Doctorate in the Practice of Management-PhD (IDPM-PhD) is founded upon the IMPM, a joint programme between five schools, and is only open to IMPM graduates. The IDPM-PhD in the Theory and Practice of Management is conducted at Lancaster University Management School in the UK.

Considering the differences between DBA and PhD, the research scope is noticeable. A PhD candidate selects a research project of theoretical value to the academic environment, whereas a DBA candidate selects a research project which has a practical application to the business environment. The DBA is also considered a professional doctorate, while a PhD is considered an academic doctorate.

Ultimately, when it comes to choosing between a PhD or a DBA, it’s all down to your preference and what you want to pursue career-wise.

Either way, you’ll be able to tick ‘Dr’ on forms.

See more articles from BlueSky Education.