As the first online doctorate in business administration (DBA) offered by a Canadian University, the Athabasca University (AU) online DBA fills an important niche role in management education by increasing access to doctoral-level studies for highly motivated management professionals in business, post-secondary education, government, and not-for-profits.

Direct impact on organizations
The online DBA focuses on researching practical business and managerial issues through knowledge building, critique, and the systematic application of relevant theories and research to management practice. It is designed for those who want to make a direct impact on their organizations, industry and communities through improved management practice. It is a research-based qualification with the same level of rigor and scholarship expected of any doctoral program.

Collaborative, 24 hour online learning
The Faculty of Business online Graduate program’s proven online learning platform will be employed as the primary technology to deliver online courses and to supervise dissertations. Students, faculty and staff are all connected, creating a dynamic, interactive learning environment while giving students the support and service they need.

Leading edge research, exceptional management talent
The online DBA supports leading edge research in management thinking and practice by students and faculty who bring real world experience, knowledge, and workplace context to the table. It helps build highly qualified management talent who will foster innovation and competitive advantage for business and government, world-wide.

AU Online DBA students will:

  • Expand competencies in management research and practice
  • Effectively conduct and evaluate management research
  • Develop scholarship in management practice
  • Communicate research findings and outcomes
  • Create solutions to business and organizational problems that will increase competitive advantage
  • Enhance professional credibility
  • Derive intrinsic satisfaction from higher level learning

Is the Online Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) right for you?
The DBA curriculum is challenging and concentrates on the key steps of conducting rigorous applied research: developing theoretical grounding, articulating relevant research questions, bridging between practice and scholarship, and designing a sound research study. It requires you to exercise and develop your critical thinking and information analysis skills. Throughout, you will apply what you are learning to your professional work and your own organizations through peer interaction and writing.

edbac-logoAthabasca University is a member of The Executive DBA Council (EDBAC). EDBAC is an international association of thirty-five programs with a presence in thirteen countries.

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Attend a DBA Info Session
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Application deadline:
March 15, 2020 for the September 2020 program start.

AU’s DBA experience

Dr. Andrea Smilski, DBA ’16

Dr. Golnaz Golnaraghi, DBA ’15, at Tedx:

DBA – Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between a DBA and an MBA program?

The Doctorate is a logical extension of a graduate management degree such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA).  As such, students admitted to the AU doctoral program are expected to have graduate level knowledge in traditional management areas, e.g. Strategy, Economics, Accounting, Finance, Human Resources, Statistics, Marketing, and Operations.  The DBA has an explicit research orientation and allows a student to study and research one area of interest in-depth.

The MBA is designed to equip students with a broad set of business skills, and involves the study of core business school subjects that are transferable to multiple arenas.  Typically, it does not involve in-depth research in one area of interest.

What is the difference between a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and a PhD (Doctorate in Philosophy?)

The Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) is a professional doctorate, and focuses on managerial relevance, and the application of theory to field-based research. It is designed to advance knowledge about business/professional management practice, processes and programs, ranging from the management of people to the management of operations and projects.  It allows students to develop their ability to conduct empirical research in managerial areas of interest, often within the student’s own organization.  While the DBA has more practical application in managerial settings, it also prepares graduates for academic careers.

The Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD) is an academic doctorate, and focuses on the development of new theory, and prepares candidates to conduct highly specialized scholarly research.  Most PhD graduates lead careers as university researchers and professors, or as senior researchers in business or government.

The DBA and PhD are academically equivalent in that both entail a rigorous course of study and typically culminate in the defense of a doctoral dissertation.

Does AUFB offer a PhD in Business?

The Doctorate in Business Administration is the academic equivalent to a PhD. Both a DBA and a PhD require extensive study and a doctoral dissertation to complete. If you are looking for a PhD in business the DBA program at the AU Faculty of Business may offer what you are looking for.

How much time will I have to study on a weekly basis?

The amount of time required for studying varies with individuals.  Students are expected to spend at least 25 hours per week on the program work.

Is the AU Doctorate in Business Administration accredited?

AU is fully accredited by the Government of Alberta and reports to the Government of Alberta through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology. For full information on AU accreditation, see our main campus web site »

The DBA program is approved by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology of the Province of Alberta, and is evaluated by the Campus Alberta Quality Council, an arms-length quality assurance agency.

 Athabasca University is dedicated to distance learning, with more than 30,000 students studying undergraduate and graduate courses internationally. Its reputation for leadership and excellence in distance education are well established.

How long does it take to finish the program?

The program can be completed in 3 years but more likely in 4 to 5 years. The maximum time allowed is 7 years.

What characteristics do I need to be successful in the program?

In order to be successful in this program and an online learning environment, you need to:

  • be a self-motivated and self-directed learner
  • have the time management skills necessary to balance work, study and family commitments
  • have a strong interest in applied research
  • have a basic understanding of statistics and its applications
  • have a good grounding in computer basics and a working knowledge of word processing and spreadsheet software
  • be able to write scholarly papers/publications
  • be able to work in groups
  • be able to work independently, especially at the dissertation stage
  • be highly experienced and able to bring real-world examples to learning
  • be able to do presentations at conferences

Most importantly, you need to be psychologically well prepared for the time commitment and the workload. Strong family support for your goal of obtaining a DBA while working is essential.


Is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) a requirement for admission, and is there a minimum score required?

TOEFL is one of the ways to indicate English proficiency for applicants without a high school diploma or university degree from a recognized English speaking country.

Applicants without a high school diploma or a university degree from Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, U.S.A., United Kingdom, or English speaking West Indies must complete an English Language Proficiency Test.

Acceptable tests and required scores are as follows:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language TOEFL – paper based test (550); internet based test (79); computer based test (213)
  • University of Michigan English Language Examination Assessment Battery MELAB (80%)
  • Canadian Test of English for Scholars and Teachers CanTEST (band 4.5 in listening and reading and band 4.0 in writing and oral interview)
  • International English Language Testing System IELTS (6.5)

Test scores will only be considered if they have been obtained within the past two years and must be sent directly to the Faculty of Business from the testing institution before the application deadline.

What level of statistical knowledge is required?

Applicants should have completed at least one university level statistics course, covering basic statistics, as indicated on an official transcript of the applicant’s past education. The course(s) should have covered basic statistical procedures including analysis of variance, correlation and linear regression.

If I do not have the level of required statistical background, what can I do?

Check your local university or accredited online universities for courses that cover the topics outlined in question 4 above.

Why do I need to provide a draft research proposal with my application?

Writing a draft research proposal allows you to determine  your learning objectives, and provides the Admissions Committee with an understanding of your research interests and background, and to help aid in the allocation of mentoring and supervisory resources.

Is there to be an interview during the application process?

Phone interviews will be arranged for some applicants  in order to obtain further information .  The interview provides an opportunity for you applicants to outline your goals, experience and suitability for the program.

Can I transfer credit into the AU DBA from another doctorate program?

Courses taken in other doctoral programs can be evaluated on an individual basis to determine if any credits can be transferred into the DBA.  We recommend that you contact an admissions coordinator to discuss your unique situation.

Can I apply to the DBA with a graduate degree that is not in business or management?

As the AU DBA will require a solid academic foundation in business and management, it is unlikely that students without an MBA would be admitted. However, we recommend that you discuss your unique situation with an admissions coordinator as there may be exceptions based on your field of research and professional background.

How current do my academic references need to be?

We recognize that some applicants may have completed their previous graduate education some time ago and may be unable to submit a suitable academic reference. In these cases, please provide an additional professional reference.

Program Structure and Delivery

Must I take the on-site orientation program at the scheduled time?

Yes, the on-site orientation program is a critical component, and is mandatory. It is offered once a year for incoming students.

Are there other on-site components to the program?

Yes, there is an on-site research component in each of years 2 and 3 of the program – the Annual DBA Research Workshop – normally held in September.  During each five day workshop, students discuss their own research ideas with other DBA students and academic researchers.  Workshop sessions relevant to research are also offered.

Students in years 4 and after are not required to attend the annual workshop, but may choose to participate as part of their continuous learning and development.

Students are also encouraged to attend relevant external academic and professional research conferences, but such attendance is not a program requirement.

How are online courses delivered?

All courses are designed, developed and delivered within our online learning platform. Courses are delivered sequentially and each of the seven core courses are ten weeks in duration.  Course materials, readings, assignments, discussions, and teamwork are delivered online. Courses may also be supplemented with textbooks, and students have full access to an extensive digital library through Athabasca University.

Are there opportunities for networking?

Yes, there are opportunities for both online and face-to-face networking.  Students typically form a tight online community as they take courses together with other members of their cohort and participate in collaborative discussions/projects.  The orientation program and the annual workshops, which are held in residence, provide face-to-face interaction.

What types of support do students receive from Athabasca University?


Students receive academic guidance from the program director and course professors. During coursework, professors facilitate online seminars, and provide feedback, guidance, and encouragement. Following coursework, at the dissertation proposal stage, each student has a direct supervisor and a supervisory committee.  Reference librarians at Athabasca University are available, if needed.


Each student receives free support from Athabasca University Help Desk Analysts who are available week days, evenings, and Sundays to assist with any technical problems related to the program


Upon admission to the program, students are assigned a Student Services Coordinator who handles course registrations and all other administrative matters involved in supporting completion of the DBA program.