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British University to Accept Bitcoin as Payment for Some Courses

The University of Cumbria, a seven-year-old institution in Britain, said on Tuesday it would accept Bitcoin as payment for some courses, the latest in a growing list of companies and organizations around the world that use the virtual currency.

The move is an exercise in learning by doing, university officials said in a written statement. Bitcoin, a decentralized currency exchanged on the Internet without an intermediary such as a bank or broker, will be accepted for two certificate programs in Cumbria’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability that focus on complementary currencies and payment innovation. It is the first public university to use the currency, Cumbria officials said.

“Some support Bitcoin due to its speed and cost, others due to the new era of financial freedom it could enable,” said Jem Bendell, the institute’s director. ”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 analyze it from many different perspectives.”

In November the University of Nicosia, a private institution in Cyprus, became the first university to accept Bitcoin for tuition and fees. Khan Academy, the nonprofit online-education platform, began accepting the currency last August.

Others, particularly providers of massive open online courses, are likely to follow suit, according to Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of its technology-policy program.

“You can think about it the same way as PayPal or Visa, but faster and cheaper,” Mr. Brito said. ”Plenty of merchants, whether it is retailers or others, are going to be interested in this new payment system. I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually traditional universities accept it too because, as anybody who has tried to pay for college with a credit card knows, there is a hefty fee and that could be lessened with Bitcoin.”

Bitcoin originated with a paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” that was published online in 2008 under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, believed to be a pseudonym. Two months later, the first Bitcoins were issued and the first transactions took place.

Use of the currency has spread steadily, spawning an international community of start-up companies dedicated to the mining, securing, and exchange of Bitcoin. Proponents say it is faster and cheaper than other online payment options. It is also considered more resistant to some types of fraud and government interference. Skeptics criticize the currency as unstable and argue that it might be used to launder money from illicit activity such as drug trafficking.

One Bitcoin unit was trading for $964.98 in U.S. dollars at midday on Tuesday, up from about $20 one year ago.

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