What is the Difference Between a PhD and a DBA?
Written by Sarah Hastings-Woodhouse
The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are doctoral degrees offered at universities across the world. Both are popular choices amongst international students looking to study in the UK.
The two qualifications are equal in academic status but differ slightly in purpose. PhD students in Business and Management undertake theoretical research that aims to make a significant and original contribution to the field. DBA students, on the other hand, focus largely on applied research that can be used to solve real-world Business problems.
If you’re looking to complete a doctoral qualification in the area, you might be wondering whether to study a PhD or a DBA. In this guide, we’ll take a look at how the two qualifications compare, covering applications, course structure, costs and more.
DBA vs PhD
|Annual fees (international)
||£10,000 -15,000 (first phase),
£2,000-5,000 (second phase)
||4-6 years (part time)
||3-4 years (full-time)
||A relevant Masters degree and at least 3 years professional experience in a senior role
||A relevant Masters degree
Eligibility and applications
PhD applicants in Business and Management will usually need an undergraduate degree and a Masters in a relevant subject. Some, but not all, programmes will require professional work experience.
DBA programmes are designed for professionals who are already senior in their field. You’ll need a minimum of three years professional experience, preferably in a management or leadership role. Most applicants will also have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or other relevant Masters – though you may be accepted without a postgraduate qualification if you have outstanding professional credentials.
For both PhD and DBA programmes, you should apply directly to your chosen university. You’ll also often need to get in contact with the department before submitting your final application. For PhD applicants, this will be to contact prospective supervisors. If you’re applying for a DBA, it’s considered good practice to reach out to the university beforehand, to check that your qualifications and suitable.
PhD applicants will have a choice between proposing their own research idea and applying for a predesigned project. The former will involve writing a proposal that sets out the parameters of your research. If you’re applying for a predesigned project, you probably won’t need a proposal – you’ll just need to demonstrate that you’re the best person to take on the project.
If you’re applying for a DBA, you’ll always be required to write your own research proposal. You’ll have considerable scope to decided what you want to focus on, but individual DBA programmes will often be looking for researchers whose proposals tie into specific ‘themes’. This is so that your research will align with other academics in the department.
Course structure and content
The structures of the PhD and the DBA are similar in that both qualifications involve the completion of an extended dissertation under the guidance of an expert supervisor.
A key difference between the two, however, is that PhD programmes consist almost entirely of independent research, while DBA programmes will usually have a significant taught element. Unlike a PhD, a DBA is split into two phases:
- In the first phase, you’ll acquire the foundational knowledge needed to undertake your research project. This will involve taking a series of taught modules covering topics such as management theory, business practice and research methodology. You may also be required to attend practical training.
- The second phase is where your programme will more closely resemble a traditional PhD. You’ll use the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired to work towards the completion of your doctoral thesis.
Because DBA courses are designed to fit around students’ professional lives, they are usually part-time. Modules are largely delivered through distance and online learning, though you might occasionally attend campus for events such as DBA conferences.
PhD students, on the other hand, will spend most of their time conducting independent research, alongside regular meetings with their supervisor (though some PhD programmes in Business may include workshops in academic skills and research methodology).
The final theses in each qualification also differ slightly in purpose and scope. A PhD dissertation will aim to make an original contribution to Business and Management theory. A DBA thesis, however, will typically apply an existing theory to a real-life Business problem.
DBA students will usually have many years of professional experience behind them. Their thesis will often present a model they have used to address challenges within their own company, that can be adapted for use more widely.
If you’re trying to decide between a PhD and a DBA, you might be wondering which is cheaper. Unfortunately, this is a tricky question to answer and very much depends on your chosen institution!
PhD programmes, which are relatively cheap for domestic students, often charge much higher international fees. International students studying for a PhD in the UK can expect to pay around £15,000-20,000 per year.
Though DBA courses are more expensive that PhDs for domestic students, they don’t tend to charge that much more for international students. DBA students in the UK pay an average of £10,000-15,000 per year for the first phase of their programme and £2,000-5,000 for the second. So, as an international student, it may actually be cheaper for you to study a DBA than a PhD.
Again, fees can vary massively from institution to institution – so make sure to check these carefully on the website of your chosen university.
Should I study a PhD or a DBA?
The answer to this question depends on your previous experience and career aspirations. If you’re a senior business professional looking to gain the expertise needed to progress even further in your field, a DBA might be the best option for you.
If you’ve recently completed an undergraduate or Masters degree and want to explore a research topic related to Business and Management in depth, you’d be better suited to a PhD (in fact, as discussed above, recent graduates without extensive professional experience likely won’t qualify for a DBA).
A PhD can be an excellent gateway to an academic career, with many graduates going on to conduct further research and teach in a university setting. However, you’ll also be well-positioned to pursue public or private sector positions outside of academia.