Cash, credit or bitcoin? Higher learning with a digital wallet

June 2nd, 2016

In what is a first for Canadian universities, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University recently celebrated its one-year anniversary of accepting Bitcoins as payment at the campus bookstore.

The store went live with the Bitcoin Project in May 2015. Students can use an AVM (automatic vending machine) on campus to load Bitcoins into a digital wallet on their smartphone. The Bitcoins can then be used to pay for books, clothing, stationary or anything else the campus bookstore sells.

The project was spearheaded by the SFU Bitcoin Club and embraced by university administration.

“It is our mission to challenge and engage students and provide them with learning opportunities not only inside the classroom but also outside,” said Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s executive director of ancillary services.

For anyone not familiar with Bitcoin, the digital currency isn’t tied to a country or any central bank. Bitcoins can be stored in a digital “wallet” accessible via a mobile app. The currency is paperless and uses a peer-to-peer model for tracking, making it secure and anonymous. Advocates say Bitcoin’s lack of centralization democratizes the banking industry. However, its anonymous nature also makes it difficult to track stolen Bitcoins and has made Bitcoin the currency of choice for many who are engaged in illegal activities.

In Canada, Bitcoins aren’t recognized as legal tender, but they are recognized as a commodity, similar to gold or silver.

“They [students] don’t have to use it if they don’t want to use it. But if they use it, it’s kind of like using gold coins or silver bullion,” club president Michael Yeung told the Canadian Press.

Just like any other currency, the value of Bitcoins fluctuates. Currently, one Bitcoin equals about $800 Canadian. According to The Canadian Press, the university guards against rapid price fluctuations by using a U.S.-based Bitcoin exchange provider to change all Bitcoins into U.S. dollars as soon as they are received in the store.

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