Lebanon’s students rush to crypto as hyperinflation rages
The American University of Beirut holds the preeminent business school in the Middle East in a tan stone edifice with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean.
As with the rest of the nation, the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business has hit hard times. Last year, Hezbollah and Christian-backed militias engaged in a gun battle over probes into the Beirut port explosion. Many worried that the terrible civil war of the 1980s might resurface. AUB canceled midterm examinations.
Thankfully, the war did not break out in Lebanon. However, the situation persists. The pound-denominated tuition and wages of AUB academics have decreased by around 90 percent. Beirut has long been one of the cultural centers of the Arab world, but in recent years Lebanon’s economy has been plagued by cronyism, corruption, and some of the worst hyperinflation in the world.
Officially, the Lebanese lira is tied to the dollar at a rate of 1,500 to 1, although the black market exchange rate is closer to 30,000 to 1. In addition, banks have permanently blocked consumer withdrawals from pre-crisis dollar accounts, eroding their credibility as an institution. In the midst of such a crisis, future business leaders in Lebanon are turning to blockchain technology.
Harry Halpin states, “The insanity is,” “Walking across Beirut, there is no sense of pandemonium. This seems like something that might easily occur in New York.”
American Halper, a founder programmer of privacy-focused Nym Technologies, found himself in residence at the start of the previous semester. He conducted the first “Blockchain for Business” class.
The blockchain program is a recent addition to the institution. According to his own account, Halpin was inspired by Gary Gensler’s classes at MIT, which Halpin attended while employed at the institution.
Several students pitched the LebAid platform for refugee remittances to the business school’s start-up accelerator at the conclusion of the first semester of the blockchain course.
A hackathon held at the end of May saw competing teams, comprising one-third of the fall semester’s undergraduate students, submit solutions to Lebanon’s unique difficulties. One team enrolled in the university’s incubation program has developed a system of scratch-off prepaid cards that enable individuals to access USDT wallets with tiny amounts by revealing private keys.
The popularity of the new curriculum prompted the university to add a DeFi module for professionals beginning in July and to establish separate courses for graduate students with a stronger programming background.
“What you actually need are experienced programmers who can apply those talents to practical issues they understand better than anybody else in their own language, such as Arabic,” adds Halpin.
In the meanwhile, the AUB struggles to retain its present employment due to the declining value of professor wages. The institution is also contemplating converting its tuition from pounds to dollars, which would make it prohibitively expensive for a substantial proportion of potential students.