The adoption of blockchain, bitcoin, and various cryptocurrencies may be speeding up. Although there are those that disagree – for instance, one simply need turn to Medium article “Why Bitcoin and Crypto have no future” to read 40 reasons why crypto has no future.
In any case, there is evidence that refutes the article’s findings. For example, Bakkt, the crypto trading platform for the NYSE, and Fidelity’s foray into the crypto space, both indicate that the economy is making space for crypto in some manner. Moreover, it seems that universities and colleges are looking to adopt cryptocurrency and blockchain technology as well.
Various academic institutions are now offering courses on blockchain technology, including Cornell, Stanford, and MIT and they are receiving endowments in crypto funds as well. This is an interesting trend, especially given that such institutions tend to be rigid and conservative in their approach, so providing introductions to the technology is certainly an innovative move.
In addition to introducing university students to a new financial system, universities have also promoted awareness of the technology as one that may be the future standard. Blockchain is being treated as the next internet and the foundation of a fourth industrial revolution. Those who are interested in a new and bright future may find that blockchain offers them a stellar option.
There has also been a great deal of interest and demand for curated blockchain courses. Such demand and interest suggests that university students are opened-minded and may accept the controversial technology and its associations to cryptocurrency.
Emin Gun Sirer, an associate professor of Computer Science, was scheduled to teach blockchain technology at Cornell University. The class was intended for PhD students and was at the advanced level. Sirer was surprised by the turn around and interest in the course. As he stated,
“Usually when you have five to a dozen students in such a class, you’re teaching a popular class.” Upon arriving at the class on the first day to teach, he was surprised to see 88 students waiting. In commenting on the turnaround, he stated “It was pretty interesting to see that level of interest.”
Although the class was primarily intended for PhD students, several undergraduate students enrolled as well, indicating that there was an interest among youth.
The traditional audience for blockchain technology and cryptocurrency is Wall Street banking entities, finance firms, and now universities are joining the fold. Sirer added,
“We are not teaching people how to use today’s blockchains – tomorrow’s blockchains will look nothing like todays.”
Further, Sirer and Keven Werbarch of the University of Pennsylvania explained how courses are effective and supplementary to other areas of study, which provides insight into the permeating nature of blockchain technology to various areas such as sociology, economics, and finance.
“In order to understand blockchain well, you actually need to learn a bunch of subjects that we already teach in the university, things like economics and finance and law and distributed systems in engineering. I think someone who is taking a bunch of related courses because they’re interested in blockchain is going to get a well-rounded education that is going to serve them well and be useful even if this industry falls apart.”
Sirer agreed, stating,
“What you want to avoid at all costs is overspecialization early on in your career. If you end up going to a program, dedicated to blockchain. I think I personally would say you’re making a mistake. The right thing to do is establish a broad, strong base.”
Although it is simple for universities to offer their students blockchain and cryptocurrency courses that could shape the future, it is much more difficult for the schools to invest in the technologies because they are largely new and untested. Interestingly enough though, several universities – perhaps due to their funding abilities – have made investments into the cryptocurrency fund. The universities include Stanford University, Dartmouth, Harvard, and North Carolina.
It should be noted though that the endowment funds operate in the university framework. Sirer, in a discussion with Forbes, explained that there is a level of separation between money men and the university – but it is certainly a step in the right direction. As he told Forbes,
“The investment arm of universities is typically entirely independent of its scholastic mission. What we have here is an organic decision by the money people that this area is lucrative and staying power. This doesn’t necessarily imply anything at the academic level. In fact, academics are typically set in their ways and can trial behind the reality in the trenches by years.”
Sirer also alludes to the fact that this is trailing for traditional universities and their endowment funds are beginning to include riskier investments that may have a good payout. He added,
“Universities have historically followed two investment strategies with their endowment funds: most have followed a very conservative strategy of investing in household names and solid sectors, while a few savvy schools have taken on risky bets in emerging areas, to big gains.” Further, “We are now seeing a mix of schools, from the relatively risk averse MIT to the more maverick Harvard, take the same position that this area is here to state.”
Even though the decision to invest in crypto may not be driven by the university heads, Sirer believes that supporting cryptocurrency is a big statement. He noted,
“There is no greater show of support for an emerging area than what we are seeing here. All else will follow from the people voting with their money. I’m excited to see universities beginning to understand the importance of this new area, and hope they will follow up with greater numbers of courses and interdisciplinary programs on blockchain technologies.”
Michael Sonnenshein, managing director of Digital Currency Group subsidiary Grayscale, stated that nonprofit institutions, such as university endowments, have invested in its products this year. He stated,
“We’ve had a couple of smaller investment allocations come through, in that they have been starting to dip their toe into the asset class in a way that forces them to have a little skin in the game.”
Such investments may normalize cryptocurrencies for many. Can Gulec explained that there is an intersection between the new asset class and traditional technologies. As he stated,
“As the connection between disruptive and traditional technologies gets stronger, the rate of change and increase in complexity becomes faster. Crypto is already much more institutionalized compared to 2014 and this is only going to increase. As institutionalization increases, so does regulation and governmental guidance which is all good news for end customers.”
He further added,
“Cryptocurrencies follow and build on many ambitious ideas of the early days of the internet – decentralization, liberty of information flow, liberty of flow of value, borderless, non-sovereignty. However, the utopia and drastic changes can’t happen overnight. Many early dot com companies failed not because their business ideas were infeasible but the world wasn’t ready. The adoption potential just wasn’t there. I believe the crypto world is in a similar situation at this point in time. We want to facilitate this adoption and believe traditional financial systems and disruptive fin-tech systems should be integrated and seamlessly connected.”
At the end of the day, it is going to be fascinating to see how traditional universities continue to approach revolutionary ideas such as blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. Perhaps institutions of higher education are where we need to start for mass adoption to take place.