Tuesday, 21 January 2014

IFLAS at the University of Cumbria becomes first public university to accept Bitcoin for tuition fees

The University of Cumbria's Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) has become the first public university in the world to accept Bitcoin for the payment of tuition fees. 
The move comes with the launch of courses that examine the role of complementary currencies in economic and social systems. UoC believes it is the first public university in the world to accept Bitcoin as payment for course fees.
Bitcoin is an online currency and payment system that already enables the international transmission of funds per day at an amount greater than Western Union. Thousands of merchants now accept Bitcoin worldwide. The university uses the system Bitpay to process any payments.
The acceptance of Bitcoin will initially be limited to the two programmes that address complementary currencies. These are the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, which will be taught from the university’s London campus in 2014, and the Postgraduate Certificate inSustainable Leadership, which will be taught from its Lake District campus, in 2014. Both courses are run by the new Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS).

The founder and director of IFLAS, Professor Jem Bendell (pictured), explains the move: “We believe in learning by doing, and so to help inform our courses on complementary currencies, we are trialling the acceptance of them. The internal discussions about currency and payment innovation and the practical implications for different departments have been insightful.”
The reason IFLAS has launched a course on these topics is due to the growing practice of currency innovation and the potential it presents for significant societal change. Professor Bendell continues:  “Some support Bitcoin due to its speed and cost, others due the new era of financial freedom it could enable. 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 analyse it from many different perspectives.”
In May last year IFLAS co-organised the first symposium by the United Nations on complementary currencies and has an active research programme on this topic, including PhD students. 
Late last year a private university in Cyprus announced it would accept Bitcoin, but the University of Cumbria is the first public university to do so, and for courses that are already validated and accepting students. Cumbria’s system for accepting payments, via the Bitpay system, is already operational.
FAQs on the University of Cumbria and alternative currencies
The University of Cumbria has announced it will accept payment for courses via Bitcoin. It understands this makes it the first public university in the world to do so. It will accept Bitcoin for payment of two specific courses that relate to currency innovation, and learn from the process and incorporate that into its teaching.
Is the university accepting payments in Bitcoin for fees?
The university facilitates students to use one of the transaction services such as Bitpay to pay their fees using their Bitcoin, for the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership and the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange. This facility is on a trial basis and will be assessed on an ongoing basis and also at the end of 2014.

Is it the first university to do so?
We understand we are the first public university to facilitate payments using the Bitcoin system, the first British university to do so, and the world’s first Business School to do so. A private university in Cyprus recently announced it will accept Bitcoin for fees.

Why is the university doing this?
First, this is an area of our expertise. The university’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) is a leader in complementary currency research, education and dialogue. In May 2013 it co-organised the first United Nations conference on complementary currencies. Its director, Professor Jem Bendell publishes and supervises PhDs in this field. In 2014 we launch what we understand to be the world’s first Certificate of Achievement in complementary currencies, as part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership. The tradition of the university in action research and applied research means our academics naturally seek to learn by analysing practice. Therefore we will study the experience of facilitating payments by one complementary currency system, Bitcoin for this particular course.
Second, we are open to relevant innovations in payment technology that could increase options for our students.
Third, we recognise the attention being given to Bitcoin at present, and as we have relevant expertise and courses on offer, think that we should make these resources widely known to both enthusiasts and critics.
What are the university’s views on Bitcoin and alternative currencies?
The university does not have a view on Bitcoin or alternative currencies. Our academics have a variety of views. IFLAS has specialist knowledge in the field of complementary currencies. Its director, Professor Jem Bendell, has worked in this field for four years, and is a leading commentator on the topic. IFLAS and Professor Bendell consider complementary currencies to be important for sustainable development if designed and managed well. They consider there is currently much misunderstanding about complementary currencies, both misinformed criticism and superficial hype, which is a reason for our courses on the topic. The Bitcoin unit may vary in value, and opinions differ on that value, yet the key innovation is the system it is based on, which is a global ledger maintained by any computers that download the relevant software and have the appropriate hardware and internet connection. The evolution of payment technology and currencies poses many opportunities and issues for all sectors of society, so deserves our research, discussion and impartial advice.

What are the benefits for students and the university?
Students can benefit from experimenting with a new means of payment if they have Bitcoin. The university can benefit from experiencing complementary currencies and be recognised for that.

What are the risks for students and the university?
We advise against students purchasing Bitcoin in order to pay their fees. They should only use this facility if they already have Bitcoin, or can receive Bitcoin donations in order to pay their fees. We make this clear due to the risk of currency volatility. The university does not risk currency volatility as we use transaction services that convert the Bitcoin into GBP at the time of payment. Bitpay is a US-based company that enables thousands of merchants to accept Bitcoin. Last year it secured investment from the founders of Paypal. In future we may use others systems or have our own Bitcoin wallet but this is something we are currently examining. There are misunderstandings about Bitcoin and this is a trial move by the university, where we  approach it as a learning exercise and welcome feedback. Payments made using Bitcoin and any requested refunds will be subject to the university's tuition fee policy.

Will the university accept other currencies in future?
The university will learn from this trial and develop its awareness of innovations in complementary currencies and payment technology.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A year of media buzz on IFLAS

People are taking notice of IFLAS. During its first year, IFLAS and its team featured in British newspapers six times, on the radio twice, on television twice, in international media outlets over ten times, and in specialist sustainability magazines twice.

The Director appeared on Al Jazeera television explaining the need for community currency innovation (Money for Nothing: Counting the Cost), and our Associate Scholar Will Ruddick then appeared on that station discussing his action-research project in Kenya to create a local currency for a poor neighbourhood (Counting the Cost of Aid). That project generated dozens of newspaper and TV appearances in Kenya itself and a retrospective from Al Jazeera. Professor Bendell also wrote for Al Jazeera about the benefits and limitations of attending the World Economic Forum in Davos (Uncovering Davos Ma’am).
In the run up to the Institute’s launch at the Royal Geographical Society in May 2013, the Guardian ran a number of articles by the speakers. Our Senior Lecturer Kate Rawles wrote about “Injecting a Sense of Adventure into Sustainability,” Daniel Start wrote about “Why Google and Sony are turning to nature to inspire their leaders ” while Professor Bendell wrote about community currency in “Trading without money? Why a new system can address the economic spiral”, and the need to emphasise adaption to climate change (Is Sustainable Business Still Possible?). He also explored answers to the question “If It’s Too Late Why Bother?” in The Environmentalist. Then speaker and IFLAS Advisory Board member Ed Gillespie appeared with Dr Rawles on Sea Change radio, discussing how to see sustainability as an everyday adventure.

The need for a more sustainable financial system was the subject of articles in The Times and the Mail on Sunday, which focused on Professor Bendell’s reasons for switching his account to The Cumberland Building Society (Give Your Bank Its Marching Orders). Jem’s lecture tour in Australia on Bitcoin and the need for sensible currency innovation appeared in their leading daily newspaper The Australian (The Rise of Bitcoin to Put the Bite on Banks).

What’s all this got to do with sustainability leadership? Jem shared some ideas in an interview for the specialist CSR Wire on “How to Assess Top Talent for Sustainability Leadership Skills.
2014 sees a continued interest in IFLAS, with Professor Bendell already appearing on ITV to discuss the growth of international attention for the University of Cumbria in its Lake District Campus in Ambleside. 

Stay tuned… one way is to join the Sustainable Leaders Linked In Group.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

IFLAS professor is first UK academic invited to attend Harvard leadership programme

The director of the University of Cumbria’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) has been selected to join a group of world leaders in business and politics to study the latest leadership approaches at Harvard University.

Professor Jem Bendell
Professor Jem Bendell, named a ‘Young Global Leader’ by the World Economic Forum, will attend the Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century programme in Cambridge, USA in March.  
Young Global Leaders are chosen by the forum for having demonstrated leadership for the common good on a global stage, and include people such as Kumi Naidoo (Greenpeace CEO), Hannah Jones (Head of Sustainability at Nike), and Chuka Umunna MP.  The Forum of Young Global Leaders meets on Monday, January 20 in Davos, Switzerland, ahead of the Davos Summit.
Professor Bendell is the first academic from the UK to be accepted onto the programme.

He said: “I am delighted to be accepted on to this Harvard programme, which gives me the chance to experience the latest approaches to leadership education, and also to share our own approaches in the Lake District.
“Harvard provides elite education to some of the world’s most influential people, in a class-based setting. In Cumbria we have a tradition of experiential learning, and a liking for taking our executive students into nature and to local heritage sites, to stimulate their reflection. I think in future we will see more combinations of such approaches.”
Through a partnership between the Harvard Kennedy School, the Center for Public Leadership and the World Economic Forum, the programme has been developed to expand and enhance the leadership skills of Young Global Leaders, necessary to address the world’s most serious problems. The curriculum considers critical global policy areas such as education, environment, global health, international development, and security, and is provided free of charge due to sponsorship.
As the world’s first professor of sustainability leadership, Professor Bendell recognises the need to blend insights from leadership development and the challenge of sustainable development.
“Ultimately we need to better understand how to lead across borders, for the greater good, not only for our organisation,” he explains.

For more information about IFLAS and the courses it offers, visit www.cumbria.ac.uk/IFLAS