Students will be able to use the online currency, which is accepted by thousands of retailers worldwide, for two of the university’s courses, both of which examine the role of so-called “complementary currencies”.
In November last year, the private University of Nicosia in Cyprus became the first institution to announce it would accept Bitcoin as payment for tuition, but Cumbria believes it is the first publicly-funded institution to do so.
Acceptance of the internet currency will initially be limited to the two programmes: the certificate of achievement in sustainable exchange, which will be taught from the university’s London campus in July, and the postgraduate certificate in sustainable leadership, which will be taught from its Cumbria campus in June.
“We believe in learning by doing, and so to help inform our courses on complementary currencies, we are trialling the acceptance of them,” said Jem Bendell, founder and director of the university’s new Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, which is running the two courses.
“Some support Bitcoin due to its speed and cost, others due the new era of financial freedom it could enable,” she continued.
“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.”
A statement from the university advised against students purchasing Bitcoin in order to pay their fees, saying that 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,” the statement said.
Cumbria’s system for accepting payments via the “Bitpay” system is already operational, the university confirmed.
What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is an online currency and payment system. It is a virtual currency that does not exist in physical form, and is not affiliated to a central bank. Its value is determined by demand.
The currency was introduced in 2009 by a programmer known as Satoshi Nakamoto, although this is believed to be a pseudonym, and there are a limited number of “Bitcoins” in the world.
To use the currency, users must download a “wallet” from the bitcoin.org site, and then either buy Bitcoin using an online exchange or “mine” for coins by correctly guessing a complicated number sequence that unlocks coins in batches of 25.
You can use the currency to buy products and services, although most major retailers do not accept it. However, Bitcoins can be exchanged via third party sites for vouchers for websites such as Amazon.
The currency has fluctuated in value wildly since its launch, and at the time of writing each coin was worth around £510.