University 'walks the walk' with bitcoin payments

Students will be keen to learn how much higher cryptocurrencies can rise Keystone

For students with a few bitcoin to rub together, Lucerne’s University of Applied Sciences and Arts might be the place to study. The university has started accepting the cryptocurrency as a means of paying tuition fees.

The transactions will be handled by Zug-based crypto trading platform Bitcoin Suisse, which has agreed to absorb exchange rate losses and currency fluctuations. Students will pay a 1% transaction fee to further insulate the university form such losses.

Situated close to Zug’s Crypto Valley, the university is chiseling out a niche for fintech research. It is also a member of the Crypto Valley Association that is positioning the central Swiss region as a global hub for fintech and cryptocurrency activity.

Among other initiatives, the non-profit group is beating the drum for “initial coin offerings” (ICOs) in the region – plus a drive to self-regulate the sector.

Lucerne is not the first university in the world to accept bitcoin payments – there are others in the United States, Britain and Cyprus. Nor is it the first Swiss institution to open its arms to the cryptocurrency.

Zug council accepts some payments for services in bitcoin (more than 40 residents have taken advantage at the last count). The town of Chiasso, in canton Ticino, followed Zug’s example this year. Business services firm Ernst & Young also accepts some bitcoin payments in Switzerland, while Swiss Federal Railways allows customers to buy bitcoin from some ticket machines.

Such initiatives have been written off in certain quarters as gimmicks, designed purely to cash in on the current rampant publicity surrounding cryptocurrencies. But others argue that it makes complete sense for companies with an active interest in crypto not just to talk the talk but also walk the walk. It’s only by encouraging more use of crypto that it can get off the ground.

How far off the ground bitcoin will fly is also a matter of opinion. The value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has soared in the last 12 months. Is this a sign that crypto has matured to point of mainstream acceptance or does it point to an empty bubble about the burst – a view espoused recently by JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon and UBS chairman Axel Weber.

Like some other parties in Switzerland, Lucerne’s University of Applied Sciences and Arts appears to be hedging its bets a bit – engaging with bitcoin behind the protective screen of a third party. Crypto watchers, like myself, will be watching to see how that pans out.

Oct, 2017

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