DBA vs PhD – Differences Explained

Is a DBA and PhD Equivalent?

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.

What Is a PhD?

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.

What Is a DBA?

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).

Research Scope

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.

Programme Structure

PhD Vs DBA Salary

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. A wide range of specialist business management topics are covered, such as market theory, resource partitioning, and organisational development. 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’.

During your degree, you’ll likely have several opportunities to present your research at conferences, universities and related organisations.

Tuition Fees

To fairly represent the two sections of DBA programmes, universities usually adopt two sets of annual tuition fees. These fees vary widely between universities:

  1. The first set covers the first two years of the programme and is typically between £13,000 – £30,000 per year.
  2. The second set of annual tuition fee covers the remaining years and generally is between £4,000 – £9,000 per year.

The reason for this difference in fee is that the first two years will heavily utilise the university’s resources and a professor’s time to deliver the taught modules.

In contrast, the average cost of a full-time PhD is fixed throughout its full duration and is typically around £4,700 per annum. Given this difference in tuition fee and programme duration, a DBA is approximately two to three times more expensive than undertaking a PhD.

Besides having a greater reliance on a university’s resources, another reason DBA programmes cost more than a PhD is because of the differences in the students undertaking them. A PhD student is usually a young individual who has just completed a Master’s degree and has little to no working experience. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a DBA student will be an older individual with up to 10 years of professional working experience, and will likely still be working alongside their studies. As a result, universities can set a higher tuition fee due to DBA students being financially stronger.

Funding Opportunities

Compared to PhD programmes, DBAs don’t have as much access to funding opportunities.

DBA students can apply for Doctoral Loans or try to secure funding from external sources. The most accessible source of these external sources will always be their employer. While their employer may not cover the full tuition fees, they may subsidise part of it and help supply you with data and other resources you may need.

Entry Requirements


As DBAs are intended for experienced practitioners, you will be expected to have significant experience in your field. Although the entry requirements will differ between universities, most business schools will require you to have at least ten years of professional work experience with at least five years in a senior management or leadership position.

Most universities will also require you to have a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) or an equivalent Master’s degree in a business management subject. Depending on the strength of your bachelor’s degree and the significance of your professional working experience, you could still be enrolled into a DBA programme without a relevant Master’s degree; however, you will need to demonstrate why you are a strong DBA candidate.

As part of your application, most universities will also require you to prepare and submit a short research proposal. A research proposal outlines the ‘what, why and how’ of your intended research project.

Similar to PhD programs, you will need to meet English language requirements should English not be your first language. These requirements are usually:

  • a minimum overall IELTS score of 7.0, with no less than 6.5 in each component,
  • a minimum overall Pearson Test of English (PTE) of 70, with no less than 62 in each component.

PhD vs DBA Salaries

Typically, DBA graduates earn more than business management PhD graduates. This is because a DBA focuses on the practical applications of business management, and as such, what students learn can be applied in professional practice in their industry.

Due to this practical aspect, a DBA graduate becomes well suited for top leadership positions such as Operation Managers, Managing Directors and CEOs.

On the other hand, a PhD provides graduates with applied research skills and the ability to theorise, understand and develop business management concepts. This makes them better suited for a research or academic career. These positions attract less pay compared to leadership roles in large organisations.

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