A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is equivalent to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); however, there are fundamental differences between these two doctoral degrees. These differences are nearly always at the centre of DBA vs PhD discussions, and they stem from the intended career path of the student following their degree.
A PhD focuses on the ‘theory’ underpinning business management, whereas a DBA focuses on the ‘practical’ concepts. Those who complete a PhD in business management usually do so as they wish to pursue a career in research or academia. Those who complete a DBA do so as they want to pursue a more advanced role in the business industry or within their organisation.
A PhD is a doctorate degree and is the highest postgraduate qualification awarded by universities. It involves undertaking original research in a narrow subject field and typically takes 4 years to complete.
A PhD in Business Administration provides an individual with a specialised and research-based background for a topic in the business management field. This is one of the key reasons it’s sought after by those who wish to work in business-related academia or research.
A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is a business-orientated professional doctorate. Like a PhD, it is the highest-level postgraduate qualification which you can obtain from a university.
The degree programme focuses on providing practical and innovative business management knowledge which can apply to any workplace. DBAs are designed for experienced practitioners such as senior managers, consultants and entrepreneurs who want to further their practical abilities.
This form of doctorate was first introduced as a way of allowing a distinction to be made between experienced practitioners and expert practitioners. The doctorate is an equal alternative to a traditional PhD and is an advanced follow-up for a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).
A noticeable difference between a PhD and a DBA is the research topic. A PhD candidate selects a research project of theoretical value to the academic environment. A DBA candidate selects a research project which has a practical application to the business environment.
This means that while the research topic for a PhD will centre around a gap in knowledge of existing theories, the topic for a DBA will usually focus on developing a new theory or innovatively improving an existing one.
DBA students typically choose research topics based on real-life scenarios they are facing or have faced. This is contrary to a PhD student where their research topic usually centres around a topic they don’t have first-hand experience in.
A PhD usually takes 4 years to complete while a DBA degree takes between 4–7 years to complete, with most students requiring 6 years.
Due to DBA students being working professionals, nearly all DBA degree programmes are part-time courses carried out under a ‘distant learning’ arrangement. This is opposite to PhD programmes where most are offered as full-time projects which require extensive amounts of physical presence on the university’s campus.
Another difference in the programme between PhDs and DBAs is that PhDs have no taught components, while DBAs have a significant number of taught components.
Due to these taught components, DBA programmes are split into two sections. The first section is 2 years long and covers the taught elements of the degree and involves completing coursework in the universities. These first two years provide you with advanced business knowledge and develop your research and analytical skills to prepare for your individual research project. The remaining 2 to 5 years is for you to undertake your individual research project; this is the second section.
As part of your research project, you will have to produce a thesis. The thesis will outline your methods and results and include a discussion of your research findings. Although the word count will vary for each university, most use an upper word count of around 60,000 words. Besides this, you will also need to defend your work during an oral examination known as a ‘viva voce’.
To fairly represent the two sections of DBA programmes, universities usually adopt two sets of annual fees:
1. The first set covers the first two years of the programme and is typically between £10,000–£15,000 per year in the universities.
2. The second set of fee covers the remaining years and generally is between £5,000–£6,000 per year in the universities.