The Newest, Hottest Business School Course: Blockchain and Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency has been making headlines recently as people race to invest in the rapidly growing market.
In response to demand in interest, business schools across the world have started launching courses on cryptocurrency and blockchain. In 2014, NYU’s Stern School of Business became the first major university to have a course on cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
Martin Arnold, a banking editor at Financial Times, spoke to David Yermack, the professor of finance at NYU Stern who teaches the course on blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
“I attended some events in New York and there was huge demand for people trained in the compliance and tax aspects of cryptocurrencies and blockchain, so we set up the course in 2014, the first of its kind,” Yermack tells Financial Times. “Since then it has taken on a life of its own.”
What Potential Does Blockchain Have?
Blockchain is the “digitalized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions,” according to Investopedia. It encrypts data, in this case money, so it can be shared between parties.
“This protects data from fraud while instantly updating all parties concerned,” Arnold says. “Experts say the demand for expertise is coming from all sectors — from financial services to retail — and it is far outstripping supply.”
And demand for the industry is at an all-time high. Oliver Bussmann is former chief information officer at Swiss bank UBS who now advises blockchain start-ups. Bussmann tells Financial Times that the rapidly growing industry is garnering staggering amounts of interest and demand.
“It is a fast-moving topic with tokenomics and cryptocurrencies changing whole industries,” Bussmann says. “The more people can learn about it and what potential it has, the more understanding they will have of what financial services will look like in five years.”
Yermack tells Financial Times that blockchain technology “is really changing every industry.” He says its potential is “probably as important as the introduction of double-entry bookkeeping,” with “enormous student interest for this, [and] for the jobs it offers.”
Teaching cryptocurrency in business schools
At NYU Stern, the cryptocurrencies course started with only a “few dozen students.” This year, it has more than 100 students, with a waiting list, and an expected 300 students joining next year, according to Financial Times.
Yermack’s course is titled “Digital Currency, Blockchains, and the Future of the Financial Services Industry.” The spring syllabus describes the course this way:
“The goal of the course is to “equip the students to better understand the law and business of blockchain technology, both in its initial application in the digital currency Bitcoin, as well as in the applications currently being explored for a wide variety of uses and functions. The course is also intended to create a bridge between law students and business students that will enhance the quality of their communications after they enter into their careers.”
“Year-over-year we’ll change well over half the course material,” Yermack tells Financial Times. “It keeps you young to be reading half the night just to keep up with the latest innovations.”
NYU Stern is already developing plans to launch an undergraduate course in blockchain and cryptocurrencies to meet increasing demand, according to Financial Times. Yet, there’s a shortage of professors. “Our biggest challenge is finding enough people to teach the courses,” Yermack says.
At Stanford University, a bitcoin and cryptocurrency course was launched two years ago. But according to Financial Times, the course came to an end this year after losing key staff. Joseph Bonneau left Stanford to teach a blockchain course at NYU Courant. He predicts more universities will meet the demand for blockchain and cryptocurrency.
“I’m pretty sure that every university will have a blockchain course in five years,” he tells Financial Times. “More institutions would like to teach it now, but it’s a question of having a professor around to do it.”
At UC Berkeley, a student-run organization called Blockchain at Berkeley is tapping into the industry as well. The organization hosts events, workshops, and programs to promote blockchain.
At MIT, the MIT Bitcoin Club provides forums “where Bitcoin-related ideas, projects, programs, events, and businesses can be studied, discussed, and developed,” according to MIT Bitcoin Club’s website.
This year, the University of Edinburgh became the first major European university to offer a course in blockchain. Aggelos Kiayias is chair in cyber security and privacy and director of the blockchain technology laboratory at the University of Edinburgh. He tells Financial Times that there is big demand for blockchain expertise right now, particularly for computer science students. “It serves as a very nice use case that the students can apply in a lot of other domains, like cyber security.”
Growing Jobs Producer
Demand for blockchain expertise is surging. LinkedIn data requested by the Financial Times shows that there were more than 1,000 blockchain-related job postings this past summer, three times the amount just a year ago. In addition, Financial Times reports that almost 10,000 people on LinkedIn have listed blockchain as a skill.
Jerry Cuomo is IBM’s vice-president of blockchain technologies. Cuomo tells Financial Times that the revolutionary nature of blockchain technology is creating a talent bubble. He says the best blockchain engineers can “command a salary above $250,000.”
“It is on the high side of what a really talented consultant or software engineer can earn,” he says. “Demand is exceeding supply, so we are seeing shortages. It is up there with the cloud and artificial intelligence as a really hot area.”
In addition to meeting demand for blockchain expertise at the university front, a number of internet tutorials and courses have also sprouted.
Coursera is an education-focused tech company. The company has partnered with Princeton University in a “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies” course.
B9lab is another company offering courses in blockchain for tech executives. The institution charges a fee for a 40-hour online course in blockchain spread over nine weeks, according to Financial Times.
Elias Haase is co-founder of B9lab. Haase tells Financial Times that roughly 40 people are expected to enroll in the course this year. Yet, he expects that demand and interest will continue to grow.
“There is definitely a disconnect between the willingness of companies to invest in talent and the amount of money being raised in the system, which will eventually have to be rectified,” Haase says.