Bitcoin trader Kolin Burges, right, of London and American Aaron (only his first name was given) hold protest signs as they conduct a sit-in in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The website of major Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox is offline Tuesday amid reports it suffered a debilitating theft, a new setback for efforts to gain legitimacy for the virtual currency. The URL of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox was returning a blank page. The disappearance of the site follows the resignation Sunday of Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles from the board of the Bitcoin Foundation, a group seeking legitimacy for the currency. Burgess said he had picketed the building since Feb. 14 after flying in from London, hoping to get back $320,000 he has tied up with Mt Gox. (AP Photo/Kaori Hitomi)
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus' biggest private university said Thursday it will start accepting the digital currency Bitcoin as an alternative way to pay tuition fees.
The country had been a hub for international banking before suffering a collapse in its financial system this year, leading the government to impose controls on the flow of capital as it accepted an international bailout.
But the University of Nicosia said the move to accept Bitcoin was unrelated to the controls. Rather, it was meant to help foreign students in countries where traditional banking transactions are either difficult or costly to pay for programs such as online degrees.
The university's chief financial officer, Christos Vlachos, said the institution, which has about 8,500 students enrolled, is the first in the world to take Bitcoin payments.
Bitcoin is a cryptography-based digital currency that advocates say is counterfeit-proof. Its value is determined by supply — which is limited by its design — and demand. Among the various criticisms leveled at Bitcoin are that it is too prone to price swings against other currencies to be useful.
Vlachos said payments are free of risk for the university since it immediately converts the digital currency to euros at the day's exchange rate.
He said that the university is also offering a new Masters' degree in digital currency, a field he says is the monetary equivalent of the Internet in its infancy.
"It's the gold of tomorrow," Vlachos told the Associated Press.
He said the Cypriot government should set up a regulatory framework to attract digital currency trading companies and boost the bailed-out country's foundering economy.