PhDs and DBAs: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

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Laura Maguire, Elena Revilla and Angel Diaz look at the differences (and even more the similarities) between the traditional PhD programme and the newer Doctor of Business Administration.

In recent years there has been increasing criticism about how relevant PhD research is to the real needs of industry.

At the same time, we are witnessing a rapid expansion in executive doctorates such as the DBA (Doctor of Business Administration), which have provided the field of doctoral studies with more practical knowledge and a different approach to doctoral education.

This calls for a reflection into the meaning and implications this change may have for business schools.

PhDs make an original contribution to knowledge; therefore, they are considered as the standard and traditional degree.

Non-traditional degrees produce knowledge in the context of practice, providing a direct link between what managers or organisations demand and the world of academia.

This contrast between what can be considered a traditional doctorate degree versus a non-traditional one has become an on-going debate in the academic world and a distinction that is far from being commonly acknowledged. Moreover, it also raises many controversies and debates among scholars, programme managers and institutions.

The three most salient differences between the programmes are the type of knowledge they generate, the profile of the students involved and the aim that each fulfils.

PhDs produce knowledge that is disciplinarybased, theoretical and explanatory. Academically recognised through validation by peer-review journals, this type of knowledge enables researchers to clarify constructs and relationships in a broader context.

The DBA, on the other hand, delivers applied knowledge that is designed to solve problems that arise within organisations. Such applied knowledge combines the academic rigour of a traditional PhD with managerial relevance. This practice-based approach to knowledge allows executive doctorate students to provide answers to practical problems using the theoretical frameworks of traditional PhD knowledge. In other words, it values a form of “knowledge” beyond the usual bounds of academic knowledge.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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