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DBA/PHD Necessary Clarification

A recent conversation with a colleague about DBA programmes leads me to remind our readers about what the Business Science Institute sees as some obvious (although not totally shared) points concerning the Doctorate in Business Administration.

The DBA and the PhD have very different objectives as clearly stated in the document published by EQUAL: in other words, the PhD aims to prepare future professors whose main activity will be to carry out teaching and research. On the other hand, the DBA is designed for business professionals with proven management experience, and who with the support of professors will undertake conceptual thinking based on their practice and resulting in managerial recommendations. The motivations of DBA candidates as expressed during the admissions stage are indeed very clear (How to Successfully Complete Your DBA?) collection Business Science Institute, Edition EMS, 2017, p. 30). Since its creation in 2012, the Business Science Institutehas indicated the following statement on its web site:

“Does an Executive DBA enable a candidate to become a University professor?  It has not been designed with this in mind”. 

If this is your project, then you should prepare for a PhD or doctoral qualification at a University".  At the same time, it is obvious that individual professional pathways are varied and not always straightforward.

In France, the DBA is a university qualification and the PhD a qualification certified by the State. The situation varies from one country to another, and this difference does not exist everywhere.  In the same way, the MBAs created by French Universities and Grande Ecole Business Schools are qualifications awarded by the institution, whilst the Masters in Management are awarded or certified by the State.  Does this therefore call into question the reputation of an MBA?  Are MBAs worth less than Masters?  This hierarchy between a PhD and a DBA only actually makes sense for those who want to become a university professor and therefore in general look to obtain a qualification delivered by the State.

Creating a hierarchy between DBAs and PhDs is therefore nonsense. During a DBA viva, when a colleague suggests that the candidate should have studied for a PhD given the quality of the thesis, they are not making sense.  In the same way as we would not compare an information systems thesis with a medical one, comparing work that does not have the same final objective or marking criteria is absurd.  The two programmes are not the same: the DBA is assessed on the link between the field of practice (which is behind the thesis question) and the concepts, and on the relevance of the managerial recommendations that come from the results, which is not the case for traditional doctoral programmes.  If we had to make a comparison, it would be vertical rather than horizontal.  On a continuum, on the one side we have traditional PhD programmes dominated by their epistemological, methodological and conceptual concerns, whereas with the DBA (even if the literature and methodology are naturally present), it is essential that there be a strong foothold in the field of practice as well as a link between the managerial recommendations and the empirical results.  Concerning the comparison between the quality of work, my experience of supervising more than 60 PhDs, participating as an examiner in over a hundred PhD vivas and my experience of several dozen DBA theses, I can assure you that big differences in standard deviation exist whatever the format.
Let us also not forget the important role of the responsibility of institutions and quality assurance processes for the final value of the work carried out. 

For example, a candidate who was not authorised to proceed to the viva stage by the examiners at the
Business Science Institute successfully presented their thesis at another institution several months later.



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