University of Cumbria First in UK to Accept Bitcoin

Joon Ian Wong
Jan 21, 2014 at 06:23 UTC
Updated Jan 21, 2014 at 11:41 UTC

A university in the UK has announced that it will accept bitcoin payments for two new programmes linked to the study of cryptocurrencies and complementary currencies.

The courses are run by the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria. The institute’s director, Jem Bendell said:

“We are accepting bitcoin as a way of experimenting [with] how it works for a major organisation with many departments.”

The two programmes run by the institute are a certificate in sustainable exchange and a post-graduate certificate in sustainable leadership. The first is taught at the university’s London campus and will begin in July; the second is taught at its Lake District campus and will begin in June.

The university’s head office is in Carlisle in the north of England. It has nine campuses and accepts roughly 10,500 students each year. It is known for its teacher training programmes and outdoor study degrees.

The institute has a history of involvement with alternative currency research. Last May it was one of seven partners that helped organise a United Nations symposium (PDF) on alternative finance and complementary currencies. It also has a research programme on the topic that includes PhD students.

‘Complementary currencies’ is a term used to describe forms of money that supplement a national currency. It is often used interchangably with ‘alternative currency’, however the term’s exact definition is the subject of an ongoing academic debate.

In a press release announcing the move, the university claimed that it is the world’s first public university to accept bitcoin for tuition fees. It also noted that it is the first British university and the first business school to do so. When asked if the move to accept bitcoin for tuition was simply a savvy marketing move to generate publicity for the university, Bendell said:

“Certificates generally don’t generate media attention. The acceptance of bitcoin will generate interest. However, it’s a normal thing for us to do, as we believe our teaching should be informed by our experiences.”

The certificate in sustainable exchange will teach students how to “create, scale and evaluate digitally-enabled systems of sustainable exchange”. Students will also explore the link between these systems and the emerging “sharing economy”, which includes systems like Airbnb, according to the course description. The programme is classified as a “short course” by the university. The certificate costs £1,111.

The post-graduate certificate in sustainable leadership is a year-long course where students will be asked to challenge “orthodoxies in corporate social responsibility and environmental management”. Students on the course will be able to learn about sustainable exchange in an elective module. This certificate costs £3,333.

However, the university warned prospective students against buying bitcoin to pay for tuition in its press release. It said that students should only pay in bitcoin if they already owned the cryptocurrency or if they received bitcoin donations – due to the currency’s volatility risk. The institution plans to convert bitcoin payments to pounds sterling at the time of payment via BitPay, thus reducing its own exposure to the digital currency’s price volatility.

The University of Nicosia in Cyprus, a private institution, announced in November that it would take bitcoin for tuition fees. It also launched a master’s degree in digital currency.

Disclaimer: CoinDesk founder Shakil Khan is an investor in BitPay.

University Image via Shutterstock

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