Image courtesy of University of Nicosia
It looks like the connection between Cyprus and bitcoin isn't loosening anytime soon. The small Mediterranean island is now home to the world's first university to accept bitcoin for tuition payments—and it's putting its mouth where its money is by offerring a master's degree in digital currency.
The University of Nicosia, the largest in the Republic of Cyprus, just announced its plan to embrace bitcoin, calling the increasingly popular cyber-money an "inevitable technological development."
The move isn't without its risks. Though the new currency is booming, no one's certain if it's a hype-powered flash in the pan or the future of finance. But the English-language university, keen on attracting international students, wants to get a running start out of the gate—just in case.
"We expect that initial adoption will occur from students who are attending our online degree programs from certain countries in Africa," the university's chief financial officer Dr. Christos Vlachos told me over email. "In certain countries, international payments are extremely cumbersome and given that certain students pay on a monthly installment plan, the transmission fees end up reaching 5-10 percent of their payments."
Also, it's fitting that the latest major institution to endorse the digital money is in Cyprus, which is after all credited for sparking the biggest bitcoin boom until now.
The country's banking crisis this past spring spurred great interest in the decentralized crypto-currency after the Cypriot government floated a plan to seize money right out of citizens' bank deposits to fund the bailout of the banking sector, which all but shut down completely in March.
Hoping to dodge the levies, or "bail ins," enraged Cypriots flooded the bitcoin market. The digital money's reputation went from nefarious criminal currency to an anarcho-capitalist savior of freedom. The value skyrocketed.
Naturally, the bitcoin community jumped at the opportunity to promote the "digital gold" in Cyprus. Bitcoin Central, the state-regulated European exchange, began offering "Cyprus specials" on bitcoins to panicked money-holders. Rumors swirled that the first-ever bitcoin ATM would be opening in the small republic to conveniently facilitate the trading of Euro and BTC.
Six months later bitcoin's value is at an all-time high, and Cyprus is trying to rebuild its economy.
Which is where the University of Nicosia comes in. Its postgraduate course in digital currency is geared toward industry professionals—businesspeople, entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers, accountants, policy makers, computer scientists, and so on. In other words, it's an attempt to get the future financial influencers armed and ready to take advantage of bitcoin's potential for economic development and innovation.
The country needs to develop new industries with export capabilities," said Vlahos. "By creating a framework that will render Cyprus a hub for Bitcoin trading, processing and banking, we can create an entirely new industry that will create thousands of jobs and help in the economic recovery of the country."
Going a step further, the school has developed a comprehensive framework for political policy that would help position the little island as a hub for bitcoin banking and trading. It plans to take its proposal to the Cyprus government.
"We have had initial discussions with a variety of stakeholders in the financial services community and there is absolutely tremendous appetite to study the topic and understand its implications and potential," Vlahos said. "We hope to act as a catalyst in this regard." We'll see if the Cyprus establishment is as eager to embrace the virtual currency as the Feds in the US seem to be.