A university in England has become the first public institution to accept the digital currency bitcoin as payment for course fees, though the announcement has some skeptics decrying the move as a publicity stunt.
The University of Cumbria will initially accept bitcoin payments for two programs – a certificate of achievement in sustainable exchange and a postgraduate certificate in sustainable leadership – starting at the end of this year.
“We believe in learning by doing, and so to help inform our courses on complementary currencies, we are trialing the acceptance of them,” said Jem Bendell, the founder and director of the university’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. “The internal discussions about currency and payment innovation and the practical implications for different departments have been insightful.”
Bitcoin is an open-sourced online currency, a completely digital form of money that can be shared through a peer-to-peer payment network.
Though this “crypto-currency” lacks any national origin or backing, it still operates with an exchange rate like physical money – meaning it usually costs traditional currency to obtain the digital kind.
Right now, one bitcoin costs about $800, though the market is constantly changing.
“Target students probably don’t already have ready access to bitcoin and will have to buy it in order to pay their tuition fees, so the move is probably best seen as a publicity stunt than a real convenience,” wrote Mark D. Ryan, a professor of computer security at University of Birmingham.
Cumbria is not the only university to recently begin taking the crypto-currency seriously.