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What To Expect On The Manchester Business School DBA

The Doctor of Business Administration is aimed at business professionals rather than people seeking a business career

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Mon Jul 30 2012

We recently spoke to Manchester Business School's Professor Jikyeong Kang, Director of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) programme, to find out more about this unusual qualification.

Professor Kang had just returned from a trip to China and had meetings scheduled until 9pm that day - something DBA students need to get used to as well!

Manchester Business School's doctoral programmes are ranked first in the Financial Times Business School Rankings for 2011. The part-time DBA is aimed at global executives seeking a high level postgraduate qualification, without putting their careers on hold.

We asked what the key differentiators of the Manchester Business School DBA programme are, and the requirements for entry. Small hint: you need at least six years of managerial experience and must be ready to dedicate at least 10to 12 hours to study each week.

Can you tell us about the DBA programme in a few sentences?

A good way to explain the DBA programme to those who aren’t familiar with it is to compare it to a Phd.

Phd students are normally preparing for a highly focused academic career. Phd students produce a thesis which tends to be on a narrowly defined area of research that is contributing something new to theory. Phd students can be fresh out of college with little or no work experience.

The DBA on the other hand targets senior professionals who have around six years of managerial experience  (not just work experience). The average age of students is 42 and most of them have titles such as MD, CEO, and President. They aren’t interested in researching a very narrow theoretical subject. Rather, they want answers to practical issues in their fields.

In total, we have 140 students in different stages of the programme. There are 30 to 40 students in each year. The students come from about 35 countries and what’s interesting is that students from the UK are a minority. We have very few people who have been born, raised and educated, and are working in the same country. The students have had very international lives and careers, individually and so this makes it a wonderful opportunity to network at a high level.

Can you give examples of current research taking place?

There are all sorts. A lot of students work on innovation, technology, and issues within developing countries. The DBA is very cross functional and multi-disciplinary because students want to solve real world problems, and these problems are not isolated. We also have a team of supervisors who are experts in different fields so it works very well.

What’s the best thing about the programme structure from a student perspective?

It's great seeing so many students there because they want to learn. Many younger people do things like the MBA because of pressure from family or societal expectations. Every single student on the DBA is there because they want to be.

It’s not about developing new theories but about extending those theories to new areas where they are useful in the real world. This is why having the right amount of managerial experience is crucial.

Students are surprised at how much they learn. I think it’s a humbling experience for them... especially after working in one area for the last, say, 15 years and being regarded as something of an expert. It's useful for them to understand how much research academics do that might be helpful for them.

We do our best to make sure that students use the right kind of terminology to express their ideas. This makes them more professional and I think this is a very rewarding aspect of their training. Even if they never do another big piece of research they are better consumers of information, and are more critical.

What kinds of things are you doing to improve the student experience?

We make sure that there are plenty of networking opportunities for the students. Students come in for one week, three times a year, for the first two years and after that are only required to come in once a year. While students are here we organize dinners and country walks so that they get to see more than the Manchester city centre.

These face-to-face interactions are important to become motivated again and every year we have the DBA conference in June where students can share what they’ve been working on. We realize that good channels of communication are vital so I let students know that they can reach me via email whenever they want- I rarely even take holidays!

How do you ensure that you continue to attract quality senior professionals?
Application is by invitation only. We don’t let people apply because it’s an onerous process and we want only people who are really serious about it to begin the journey.

We ask for a 3,000-word essay outlining the proposed research area. We do this as a kind of test to see who can commit to, and come up with something well-articulated and relevant. We then invite people to apply. Every year we invite about 100 people but not everyone follows up with the application material.

We also have a rigorous interview process where we make sure that students are really able to commit and have the right kind of support from employers and partners. The programme requires 10 to 12 hours each week so people need to make sure they can fit this in with their work and family life.

What’s the best thing about your job?

It has to be working with top-notch people every day. I have140 students who make sacrifices, and negotiate difficult commitments because they relish feeling challenged and feel rewarded by the opportunity. I also enjoy learning from the interactions with students.

Academics are not very good at disseminating what they research for people to use and the DBA programme acts a bridge between theoretical and practical knowledge. The best worlds come together because students have brought a research question that is highly relevant and their network and access can be valuable sources of information for academics.

For instance, if I wanted to gain data from a particular company I would have to go through so many hoops but DBA students bring their own data and this allows academics room to explore. 

More stories about students, alumni and programmes at Manchester Business School here