By Constantinos Psilides
THE UNIVERSITY of Nicosia has become the first in the world to accept the digital currency Bitcoin for tuition and other fees.
The university’s Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Christos Vlachos, said that digital currency is an inevitable technical development.
“Digital currency will create more efficient services and will serve as a mechanism for spreading financial services to under-banked regions of the world”, Vlachos said.
The university also announced the launch of a Master of Science degree in digital currency, which, according to Dr. Vlachos “is designed to help financial services and business professionals, entrepreneurs, government officials and public administrators better understand the technical underpinnings of digital currency, how it will likely interact with existing monetary and financial systems, and what opportunities exist for innovation in digital currency systems”.
Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer digital currency that functions without a central authority and it was first introduced in January 2009 by a person known only as “Satoshi Nakatomo”.
The digital currency is stored in anonymous “electronic wallets,” or code, and can travel from one wallet to another by means of an online peer-to-peer network transaction.
Bitcoin gathered negative publicity in October when U.S. authorities shut down the online black market “Silk Road” under charges of illegal trading in drugs and weapons. Investigators found that exchanges between Silk Road users were almost entirely conducted using Bitcoins. In an internal memo revealed last year, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation called Bitcoin trading sites “an alarming haven of money laundering and other criminal activities”.
Bitcoin value soared on Monday, after the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Government deemed virtual currencies a “legitimate financial service” with the same benefits and risks as other online payment systems.
Asked whether the university is concerned about Bitcoins’ “dark side”, Vlachos told the Cyprus Mail that criminal activities are conducted with all forms of currency. “It’s the authorities’ job to enforce the law and maintain order. Criminals won’t disappear if Bitcoin is retired. We chose to embrace the positive side of Bitcoin”, he added.
Vlachos estimates that the digital currency is the future, saying that “Bitcoin will go away when the Internet disappears”.
The need to trade in Bitcoin, according to Dr. Vlachos, arose to accommodate students that originate from “under-banked” countries, mainly in Africa. “We have over 2,000 online students and Bitcoin gives them a way of payment that is easy, readily available and most of all cost-free”.
It’s not the first time Cyprus has been linked to Bitcoin operations. Earlier this year, Jeff Berwick, founder of StockHouse.com and CEO of TDV Media said on his blog on dollarvigilante.com that he plans to set up the world’s first Bitcoin ATM in Cyprus to enable people to deposit flat currency into it and get bitcoins in their account, as well as put bitcoins in their account and get flat currency back.