Simon Fraser University business student Mike Yeung likens the status of Bitcoin to that of the Internet in the early 1990s. Although many people have heard of the headline-grabbing digital currency, they aren’t sure what to make of it—never mind how to use it.
Yeung told the Georgia Straight he’s optimistic that SFU will give Bitcoin a boost toward mainstream adoption by becoming the first university in Canada to accept the cryptocurrency on its campuses. The Vancouver resident believes this would grant Bitcoin “a bit more legitimacy” while giving the university the “wow factor” it needs to stand out from the pack.
“When an institution like SFU or any university looks deeply into it and adopts it and embraces it, it kind of makes Bitcoin more valid for a lot of people,” Yeung said during an interview outside SFU Woodward’s. “Especially if you can spend it on campus or buy some on campus; that would be great.”
Yeung is the founder and president of the Simon Fraser Bitcoin Club, the first group of its kind in the country, and the CEO of Saftonhouse Consulting Group, a local cryptocurrency firm. He said he’s working with SFU’s administration to bring Bitcoin point-of-sale terminals and ATMs to the university’s campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey as soon as this fall.
Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s executive director of ancillary services, confirmed the university is assessing the feasibility of accepting Bitcoin payments and installing Bitcoin ATMs in its bookstores. He told the Straight a Bitcoin pilot project could also include some of SFU’s dining services.
“It would be about creating somewhat of an ecosystem on our campus,” McLaughlin said by phone from Harbour Centre. “It’s one thing to accept Bitcoin. If there were some ATMs around the campuses, at least it’d make it easier for students to obtain Bitcoin.”
According to McLaughlin, SFU is considering hosting a three-day international Bitcoin expo, featuring speakers and exhibitors, on its Vancouver campus this fall. He noted that Dell and Expedia are among the largest companies accepting Bitcoin.
“Digital currencies are definitely here to stay,” McLaughlin said. “We recognize that. Other institutions maybe aren’t up to speed yet on digital currencies.”
However, he asserted that SFU has “absolutely no plans” to accept tuition payments in Bitcoin. Representatives for Capilano University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and the University of British Columbia confirmed that those postsecondary institutions don’t intend to accept bitcoins for tuition or services.
Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, told the Straight that Bitcoin’s underlying technology has the potential to make online transactions and currency conversions easier and less costly. But he views the cryptocurrency as a “very problematic vehicle for commerce”.
“When we have a fiat currency, like the Canadian dollar or the U.S. dollar, there is a central bank that has a mandate to look after price stability,” Antweiler said by phone from UBC’s Point Grey campus. “When you actually look at the prices for bitcoins, they are anything but. They are so volatile that anybody who’s holding this asset is, essentially, engaging in speculation.”
Although the British Columbia Institute of Technology has no plans to accept Bitcoin, its Burnaby campus is home to that city’s first Bitcoin ATM. Bryan Hellard, founder and president of the BCIT Bitcoins club, told the Straight he helped install the Lamassu machine in June.
Hellard is also the data-centre operations manager for Newnote Financial Corporation, which partnered with the BCIT Student Association to place the ATM in Building SE2. He’s hoping to convince the student union to accept Bitcoin at its pub and shops.
According to Hellard, Bitcoin is the Esperanto of currencies. If the cryptocurrency “takes off”, the mechatronics and robotics student predicts the value of one bitcoin will rise above US$10,000. (As of August 18, one bitcoin was worth about US$460.)
“It will be worth whatever the people make it worth,” Hellard said at BCIT’s downtown campus. “So the more people that use it, the more it’s going to be worth. Right now, we’re at such a small percentage. Once we grow bigger and bigger, then it’ll get more worth, more utility.”
On August 11, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an advisory about the risks—including hackers, a lack of deposit insurance, and scams—associated with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin. The agency warned that these “experimental” currencies aren’t “regular money”.
“No one is required to accept them as payment or to exchange them for traditional currencies,” the CFPB advisory states. “To work, they depend on the processing power of vast networks of unidentified, private computers around the world, which maintain and update a public ledger called the ‘blockchain’.”
At SFU, Yeung is approached by students with questions about Bitcoin. He encourages everyone to “embrace it”. Being able to buy books and food on campus with Bitcoin would make it easier for students to follow his advice.
“If you set up the infrastructure, people will come and start using it,” Yeung said. “That’s the way I see it.”