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article imageCyprus on forefront of virtual currency wave

By Rob Edens     Nov 28, 2013 in Business
Nicosia - The University of Nicosia made waves this week when it announced that it would become the first accredited institution to accept Bitcoins from students.
The university, the largest private institution in Cyprus with over 8,500 students, will accept the virtual currency for everything from tuition and housing to everyday costs such as textbooks and meals in the school’s cafeterias.
Many reported that the move was linked to tumult in the small country’s banking sector earlier this year, reckoning that Cyprus residents were sheltering their money in the virtual currency. However, the university’s chief financial officer, Dr. Christos Vlachos, says that "it has nothing to do with the banking crisis."
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Vlachos explained that the university, "has students all over the world, Africa, Asia, Europe. We’ve been getting requests for the last couple of months to take Bitcoins." Many of the university’s international students, especially from developing countries, he said, "have less access to, and higher costs from, traditional banking systems." Vlachos said that most demand came from countries like Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.
By taking such an unprecedented decision, the university hopes to position itself at the forefront of a new era in the way we pay for purchases. "We might be seeing the advent of the Internet of money right before our eyes," Vlachos conjectured. The university is also simultaneously launching a new master’s degree in digital currencies.
A stack of bitcoins
A stack of bitcoins
According to the school, the groundbreaking course of study is designed to help students 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. "To reach a new generation of tech-savvy professionals, courses will be offered both on-campus and online.
University of Nicosia officials expect that several hundred students will use Bitcoin when the service is introduced. In the years to come, however, they hope that it will even become a mainstream form of payment. The university administration is currently working with a Cypriot company that will handle the transactions. Bitcoins payments will be converted into euros at prevailing rates.
This week, another local company, Neo Easycoin, also announced that it plans to open Bitcoin transaction shops across the country. The company hopes, "to better inform people on what is Bitcoin [sic], why it’s the future in monetary transactions and how people can gain access to it." It says it will also operate an online transaction server designed for Bitcoin users in Cyprus.
Bitcoin is becoming increasingly popular among a new generation that grew up on the internet and has few qualms with virtual currency. The peer-to-peer payment system’s reputation has been tarnished by its use by unsavory traders on black market sites such as Silk Road, which was recently shut down by American authorities. In Cyprus though, one of Europe’s most dynamic financial hubs, the system may finally be emerging into the mainstream.
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