Two new courses aimed at educating students on alternative money can be paid for in bitcoin.Reuters

The University of Cumbria has become the world's first public educational institution to accept bitcoin as payment for tuition fees.

The currency is being accepted as payment for two new courses linked to the study of crypto-currencies and complementary currencies, in a move similar to that of the private University of Cyprus, which began accepting bitcoins and started teaching about the currency last year.

Jem Bendell, director of the University of Cumbria's Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, said: "We are accepting bitcoin as a way of experimenting [with] how it works for a major organisation with many departments."

The university claims to be the world's first public educational institution to accept bitcoin payments, adding it is "delighted" to be able to offer the service.

In November 2013, the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, a private institution, began accepting bitcoin as payment for tuition fees, as well as offering a Master's degree focusing on digital currencies like bitcoin and litecoin.

Sustainable exchange and leadership

The two new courses offered by the university are a certificate in sustainable exchange, and a postgraduate certificate in sustainable leadership; the former being taught at its London campus from July, while the latter will be taught at its Lake District campus from June.

No stranger to crypto-currencies, last May the university was one of seven partners which helped organise a United Nations symposium (PDF) on alternative finance, and also has a research programme on the topic which includes PhD students.

The certificate in sustainable exchange, which costs £1,111 (around two bitcoins), is aimed at helping students understand "why and how to create, scale and evaluate digitally-enabled systems of sustainable exchange, [including] systems for giving, sharing, renting, exchanging, and funding, with or without official money."

The university's postgraduate certificate in sustainable leadership is a year-long course asking students to challenge "orthodoxies in corporate social responsibility and environmental management" and costs £3,333, or around 5.7 bitcoins.

Extreme volatility

In a press release, the university warned against students buying bitcoins to pay for the course - due to its extreme volatility - and suggested that successful applicants should only consider paying with the virtual currency if they already own it, or have received it via donations.

To reduce its own exposure to price volatility, the university said it will exchange bitcoin payments for sterling via BitPay at the time of payment.