As the realm of experts predicting cryptocurrency to become the key financial tool of the future is growing, students eager to earn their chance to get involved in the early stages of this technological revolution have prompted cryptocurrency-degree-courses to boom in recent years. Yvy League Universities like Princeton, and other top-ranked US universities such as New York University and Duke University have played a pivotal role in meeting an increasing curriculum demand for cryptocurrency courses. European universities are also following in their US counterparts footsteps, University of Cumbria (UK) and IT University of Copenhagen (Denmark) both offer their students a choice of cryptocurrency courses. However, the pioneer in training the “miners” of the future is the University of Nicosia (Cyprus), which launched in 2014 the world’s first university degree programme focused on these topics, the MSc in Digital Currency. The Media Interview has spoken to its creator, Professor Antonis Polemitis.
When was the idea of launching a programme on digital currency born and why?
We first started evaluating the concepts underlying Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in 2009. We became convinced that the solution that Bitcoin provided to the Byzantine General’s Problem was a major breakthrough in computer science and that, further, cryptocurrency and other blockchain-related networks would have major applications in a variety of industries.
Some commentators are predicting that this will lead to a “second internet” or “an internet of value”
With this in mind, we launched the world’s first university degree program focused on these topics (the MSc in Digital Currency) in 2014. The first module of this programme is offered free of charge as a MOOC and was the first university course ever offered relating to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
Over 12,000 students have enrolled in the MOOC since 2014 and over 200 students have enrolled in the MSc in Digital Currency. In addition to the academic programs, we were also the first university to accept Bitcoin for tuition and publish academic certificates on the blockchain.
We continue to believe strongly in this field and are widely acknowledged as having the world’s most extensive university initiative in this area.
What makes Bitcoin different from other currencies?
Bitcoin differs from traditional currencies, in that it is a private decentralized permissionless digital cryptocurrency. Private because it is not issued by a sovereign state. Decentralized in a sense that there is no central issuer. Monetary policy is managed by the network following rules set in open-source software used by the network. Bitcoin users are pseudonymous, however every transaction on the bitcoin network is publicly visible on the blockchain – the backbone of this technology. Permissionless as any party can choose to join the network with conduct transactions or authorize transactions (mining) in a Digital realm as the network interacts online. Cryptocurrency uses public key cryptography to protect the security of transactions.
Most people associate cryptocurrencies to Bitcoin, but there are other currencies available on the market, such as Ethereum, Litecoin, and Steem. Could you help us navigate through them? Which cryptocurrency is best to buy today and why?
As a University, it is our policy to not provide investment advice to our students or other external parties. If someone is consider investing in cryptocurrencies, we recommend they dedicate time to fully evaluate the topic and make decisions appropriate for their financial situation.
There are currently more than 1,100 cryptocurrencies in circulation, with perhaps 10-20 attracting most of the interest from developers and investors. Different cryptocurrencies have different target usage cases. For example, Ether is the token of the Ethereum blockchain. The Ethereum blockchain allows users to participate in smart contracts – agreements stored in computer code which are self-executed upon a triggering of a predetermined event without the possibility of downtime. This is a very interesting concept as smart contracts can enable participants to create more complex transactions and business processes. Other examples, include, Monero, Dash and Zerocoin, cryptocurrencies that were created to enhance anonymity of transactions.
Many analysts fear a ‘Bitcoin bubble’. Cryptocurrency valuations are spiking. Why are regulators so concerned?
Regulators tend to become concerned in general when there are large shifts in asset values. Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, have had very significant rises in value over the last seven years and particularly in the last year. These currencies also tend to be more volatile than traditional currencies and trade more like commodities or early stage tech startups. So regulators, from a consumer protection perspective, try to inform consumers that this volatility can carry risk for them.
Bitcoin exchange ban in China was finally finalized and Chinese traders are already moving to Japan and South Korea. What’s the situation in Europe and in Cyprus in particular?
In general, Bitcoin is legal in the EU, though the exact treatment varies by member state and certain areas of regulation are still evolving. The European Union has stated in October 2015 that VAT/GST is not applicable to the conversion between traditional fiat currency and bitcoin. VAT/GST and other taxes (such as income tax) still apply to transactions made using bitcoins for goods and services. Some countries have classified Bitcoin as private money (e.g. UK) or as a unit of account (e.g. Germany) and have issued relevant regulations on tax issues. Most jurisdictions, however, would consider that ‘on-ramps’ to crypto-currency like exchanges would be subject to AML / KYC type regulation.
Bitcoin is legal in Cyprus, though, to date, there is a fairly limited active cryptocurrency and blockchain industry within our region. The University of Nicosia is working with key stakeholders in Cyprus, with the aim to implement innovative ideas and help the country become a regional cryptocurrency/blockchain hub.
It seems that money in the future will be primarily transacted from user to user with digital currencies. What will happen to conventional currencies, will they become obsolete? What will the future hold for cryptocurrencies in the coming years?
Digital transactions are not solely the provenance of cryptocurrencies. Digital transactions are increasing in number across-the-board in traditional sovereign currencies, from credit cards to online banking and so on. Cryptocurrencies are obviously 100% digital.
We expect that in the long-term, there will be a mixed environment of national/private currencies and network tokens.
We think regulators should provide a platform that allows innovation in these areas and hopefully establish a clear and helpful legislative framework that will allow individual users and businesses to innovate.