The University of Cumbria is to accept the online currency Bitcoin as payment for fees, it has announced, becoming the first public university in the world to do so.
At first, payments will be limited to two courses on the roles of complimentary currencies in economic systems, which will be taught from summer this year.
The courses are to be run by the university's new Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, in an effort to “study the experience of facilitating payments by one complementary currency system”.
Professor Jem Bendell, the director of IFLAS, said: “We believe in learning by doing, and so to help inform our courses on complementary currencies, we are trialling the acceptance of them.”
The two courses accepting Bitcoin as payment are the “Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange”, to be taught at Cumbria’s London campus, and the “Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership”, which will take place at the Lake District campus.
The University of Cumbria believes it is the first public university to accept Bitcoin, hot on the heels of the University of Nicosia, a private university in Cyprus, which announced it would do similar late last year. The two courses are already validated and are accepting students, while Cumbria’s system for accepting payments, via the Bitpay system, is also operational.
Bitcoin is an online currency and payment system which enables the international transmission of funds. Though thousands of merchants worldwide accept this “cryptocurrency” – so called because it uses cryptography to guarantee its security – it has often been associated with illicit activity, most notably with the online illegal drug market called Silk Road, which was shut down by the FBI in 2013. Bitcoin's value is famously quite volatile, but it’s currently sitting a little $1,000 on MT.Gox, which is one of its main trading exchanges.
In a statement, the university warned students against purchasing Bitcoin specifically to pay their fees, due to the “risk of currency volatility”.
It said: “[Students] should only use this facility if they already have Bitcoin, or can receive Bitcoin donations in order to pay their fees.
“There are misunderstandings about Bitcoin and this is a trial move by the university, where we approach it as a learning exercise and welcome feedback.”
However, it did not rule out accepting other currencies in future: “The university will learn from this trial and develop its awareness of innovations in complementary currencies and payment technology.”