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Students demand a bitcoin education

Summary:
A few years ago, during a bitcoin price rally, a colleague relayed a story about her husband attending a university lecture. He noticed several students glued to their smartphones. Peering over a few shoulders he saw they were more focused on crypto profits than the lecture. Roll on five years and bitcoin has now become the central subject of lectures in several Swiss universities. A study by blockchain start-up incubation company CV VC and PwC has identified 20 higher education establishments offering courses on blockchain and decentralised finance (DeFi). Here’s a run down of how Swiss universities are embedding blockchain and bitcoin into their curricula, often in collaboration with foreign universities. Why are universities suddenly interested in the crypto

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A few years ago, during a bitcoin price rally, a colleague relayed a story about her husband attending a university lecture. He noticed several students glued to their smartphones. Peering over a few shoulders he saw they were more focused on crypto profits than the lecture.

Roll on five years and bitcoin has now become the central subject of lectures in several Swiss universities.

A study by blockchain start-up incubation company CV VC and PwC has identified 20 higher education establishments offering courses on blockchain and decentralised finance (DeFi).

Here’s a run down of how Swiss universities are embedding blockchain and bitcoin into their curricula, often in collaboration with foreign universities.

Why are universities suddenly interested in the crypto craze?

For one thing, students are apparently demanding such teaching. A professor at the University of St Gallen told me he asked 250 students whether they would be interested in more crypto courses. Some 92% responded “yes” to his survey.

Demand is also coming from the industry side as the crypto sector expands in SwitzerlandExternal link.

Marcel Harmann, co-founder of the companies DeFi Suisse and THORwallet, told me how hard it is to find the best talent.

“It was tough to get our core teams set up in Switzerland, but we managed,” he said. “There’s a limited window of opportunity to launch a company. In crypto, the element of time is crucial.”

“There’s a war for talent among developers in Switzerland, whether it’s in blockchain or not. Google and Facebook pay huge salaries.”

Crypto apprenticeships

A lot of people working in the crypto space are self-educated – essentially people who learned how blockchain and DeFi works by trying it out for themselves.

“Blockchain is basically a tech story,” one ‘reformed’ banker (moved from traditional finance to DeFi) told me. “Your mindset has to shift from clocking in at 8am and leaving at 5pm. You need to be a self-starter and have a lot of energy because the market moves very quickly.”

“It’s easier for a 19-year-old who lives and breathes crypto to crack the market than an older banker who is set in their ways.”

Some companies are not waiting around for universities to churn out a qualified workforce. And neither are they prepared to let new hires bumble around for a few months figuring things out by themselves.

SEBA bank has set up the SEBAversity training centre, which has already schooled several bankers from Julius Bär, a bank that’s heavily invested in SEBA.

Venture building company Cryptix has just announced a tie-up with ICT training company TIE International to offer four-year apprenticeships in blockchain.

“While courses of study and further training are being greatly expanded, there is a lack of opportunities to complete basic training in this area,” the two organisations said in a press release.

Believe me, Switzerland takes its long-established apprenticeship system very seriously and the country does it very well.

If anyone thinks this crypto fad is all hype that will soon burn out, Switzerland’s learned professors would beg to disagree.


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Matthew Allen
When not covering banks, tax disputes, trade, Brexit, the World Economic Forum and FIFA, swissinfo.ch's business correspondent can be found playing cricket on various grounds in Switzerland - including the frozen lake of St Moritz. Initials: mga

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