Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

MBA Vs DBA: What Is A Doctor Of Business Administration & Why Is It Becoming Popular?

A new survey reveals the majority of business schools feel the demand for DBAs among corporate professionals is rising

Fri Sep 15 2023

In the world of business education, the MBA has reigned supreme–but will this last forever? A recent study revealed the esteemed degree could face growing competition in the form of a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA). 

The EFMD Global report surveyed employees at 13 different business schools and GME institutions, it found 86% of respondents felt the DBA will grow in popularity, while 29% said they believed this growth will be significant. 

This was backed up by almost a quarter of respondents whose institutions did not currently offer a DBA stating they thought they will do in future. 

What is a DBA?

As the highest achievable degree in business education, a DBA is a program that focuses on conducting research and teaching theoretical knowledge that can be applied directly in a workplace environment. 

As such, a DBA is both more specialized and research-based than an MBA, which instead focuses on more general management practices. 

Some examples of core specialist modules that might be covered in a DBA include financial reporting, multinational accounting, and the sociology of corporate culture. 

Why is it becoming popular?

The biggest reasons cited in the report for the increasing popularity of the DBA were both its potential for career advancement and its impact on reputation.

Out of the survey respondents, 81% said the main motivation for studying a DBA was career transformation, while 76% cited the desire to achieve the title of Doctor, and a further 71% attributed the need for research that has managerial impact.

However, there were significant differences in the roles of respondents who believed the DBA’s popularity was rising. 

Out of those who felt the DBA would become more prominent, only 22% were in senior management positions (a president or dean). This was compared to 33% of heads of DBAs and 39% of faculty members who said they believed degree uptake will increase. 

More optimistically, 50% of Higher Education consultants, who work closely with students and their families by advising them on what educational paths to take, reported expectations that the DBA becoming more prolific. 

Similarly, there were also regional differences between how the DBA’s popularity was perceived.

Enthusiasm was at its highest in Africa, where 63% of respondents believed DBA uptake would increase. But this was in stark contrast with respondents from the US, of whom only 12% believed the degree’s popularity was growing.

It is worth bearing in mind that the US is home to most of the world’s highest rated MBA programs, which could explain the less favorable view of the rise of the DBA in the region.  

Barriers to growth of the DBA

There were several additional obstacles cited in the report which respondents felt may hamper the growth of the DBA. 

According to the survey, 75% of respondents believed the biggest barrier to the degree’s rise to be the perceived ambiguity for many prospective students between a DBA and a PhD in management. 

While both a PhD and DBA involve academic research, most PhDs are full-time and aim to contribute their findings to a greater pool of knowledge. By contrast, DBAs are typically part-time, with the goal of applying student's research into real-world business situations. 

The audiences for the two degrees are also different. PhD programs are best suited for preparing researchers and professors, while DBA programs are geared towards professionals who wish to bring about change within a company. 

Although most respondents (87%) were clear on the distinction between the programs, less than a third were sure on the difference between a DBA and an Executive PhD, which is similarly aimed at business managers who want to apply research knowledge to their careers. 

More barriers cited to the growth of the DBA included the pressures of professional life (which was highlighted by 89% of heads of DBAs) and the ignorance of companies about the qualification of a DBA (67%).

A further 67% said that varying quality between DBA programs was also a deterrent for potential students. 

Differing opinions on DBA delivery

The survey showed differences between how institutions want to deliver DBAs in the future. While the majority (67%) said they believed DBA education will be blended between in-person and remote teaching, 19% favored in-person, and 13% wanted to deliver their programs totally online.

This marks a stark difference from most top MBA programs, which are typically taught in-person unless designed as a standalone Online MBA. 

However, this is reflective of the differing audiences between the two degrees. MBAs tend to attract professionals with three to five years of experience looking to change job roles, make connections, work abroad, and increase their earning.

DBAs, on the other hand, appeal to professionals more established in their roles who don’t usually want to leave their current company. As such, it is preferable for DBA candidates to have more flexibility in their program so that they can balance an existing career. 

Overall, while the survey suggests DBA applications could continue to grow, it seems unlikely that the potential uptick will affect the popularity of the MBA, as the degree remains more widely recognized and geared towards a different audience.