Tuesday, 21 January 2014

IFLAS at the University of Cumbria becomes first public university to accept Bitcoin for tuition fees

The University of Cumbria's Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) has become the first public university in the world to accept Bitcoin for the payment of tuition fees. 
The move comes with the launch of courses that examine the role of complementary currencies in economic and social systems. UoC believes it is the first public university in the world to accept Bitcoin as payment for course fees.
Bitcoin is an online currency and payment system that already enables the international transmission of funds per day at an amount greater than Western Union. Thousands of merchants now accept Bitcoin worldwide. The university uses the system Bitpay to process any payments.
The acceptance of Bitcoin will initially be limited to the two programmes that address complementary currencies. These are the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, which will be taught from the university’s London campus in 2014, and the Postgraduate Certificate inSustainable Leadership, which will be taught from its Lake District campus, in 2014. Both courses are run by the new Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS).

The founder and director of IFLAS, Professor Jem Bendell (pictured), explains the move: “We believe in learning by doing, and so to help inform our courses on complementary currencies, we are trialling the acceptance of them. The internal discussions about currency and payment innovation and the practical implications for different departments have been insightful.”
The reason IFLAS has launched a course on these topics is due to the growing practice of currency innovation and the potential it presents for significant societal change. Professor Bendell continues:  “Some support Bitcoin due to its speed and cost, others due the new era of financial freedom it could enable. Others are concerned about it and how it will affect economies and society. Others think that what comes next will be even more important. We think it is essential to become better informed, and analyse it from many different perspectives.”
In May last year IFLAS co-organised the first symposium by the United Nations on complementary currencies and has an active research programme on this topic, including PhD students. 
Late last year a private university in Cyprus announced it would accept Bitcoin, but the University of Cumbria is the first public university to do so, and for courses that are already validated and accepting students. Cumbria’s system for accepting payments, via the Bitpay system, is already operational.
FAQs on the University of Cumbria and alternative currencies
The University of Cumbria has announced it will accept payment for courses via Bitcoin. It understands this makes it the first public university in the world to do so. It will accept Bitcoin for payment of two specific courses that relate to currency innovation, and learn from the process and incorporate that into its teaching.
Is the university accepting payments in Bitcoin for fees?
The university facilitates students to use one of the transaction services such as Bitpay to pay their fees using their Bitcoin, for the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership and the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange. This facility is on a trial basis and will be assessed on an ongoing basis and also at the end of 2014.

Is it the first university to do so?
We understand we are the first public university to facilitate payments using the Bitcoin system, the first British university to do so, and the world’s first Business School to do so. A private university in Cyprus recently announced it will accept Bitcoin for fees.

Why is the university doing this?
First, this is an area of our expertise. The university’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) is a leader in complementary currency research, education and dialogue. In May 2013 it co-organised the first United Nations conference on complementary currencies. Its director, Professor Jem Bendell publishes and supervises PhDs in this field. In 2014 we launch what we understand to be the world’s first Certificate of Achievement in complementary currencies, as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership. The tradition of the university in action research and applied research means our academics naturally seek to learn by analysing practice. Therefore we will study the experience of facilitating payments by one complementary currency system, Bitcoin for this particular course.
Second, we are open to relevant innovations in payment technology that could increase options for our students.
Third, we recognise the attention being given to Bitcoin at present, and as we have relevant expertise and courses on offer, think that we should make these resources widely known to both enthusiasts and critics.
What are the university’s views on Bitcoin and alternative currencies?
The university does not have a view on Bitcoin or alternative currencies. Our academics have a variety of views. IFLAS has specialist knowledge in the field of complementary currencies. Its director, Professor Jem Bendell, has worked in this field for four years, and is a leading commentator on the topic. IFLAS and Professor Bendell consider complementary currencies to be important for sustainable development if designed and managed well. They consider there is currently much misunderstanding about complementary currencies, both misinformed criticism and superficial hype, which is a reason for our courses on the topic. The Bitcoin unit may vary in value, and opinions differ on that value, yet the key innovation is the system it is based on, which is a global ledger maintained by any computers that download the relevant software and have the appropriate hardware and internet connection. The evolution of payment technology and currencies poses many opportunities and issues for all sectors of society, so deserves our research, discussion and impartial advice.

What are the benefits for students and the university?
Students can benefit from experimenting with a new means of payment if they have Bitcoin. The university can benefit from experiencing complementary currencies and be recognised for that.

What are the risks for students and the university?
We advise against students purchasing Bitcoin in order to pay their fees. They should only use this facility if they already have Bitcoin, or can receive Bitcoin donations in order to pay their fees. We make this clear due to the risk of currency volatility. The university does not risk currency volatility as we use transaction services that convert the Bitcoin into GBP at the time of payment. Bitpay is a US-based company that enables thousands of merchants to accept Bitcoin. Last year it secured investment from the founders of Paypal. In future we may use others systems or have our own Bitcoin wallet but this is something we are currently examining. 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. Payments made using Bitcoin and any requested refunds will be subject to the university's tuition fee policy.

Will the university accept other currencies in future?
The university will learn from this trial and develop its awareness of innovations in complementary currencies and payment technology.

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