The University of Newcastle, Australia

Open Foundation opens door to medicine degree

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Indigenous student Nikki Payne never imagined undertaking university study, let alone a degree in medicine.

Nikki Payne storyAfter schooling at Vacy Primary School and Dungog High School, Nikki attained administration qualifications and worked in the accounting and hospitality sectors before starting her family.

"I wanted to be something my children could be proud of, but I still didn't know what, so I started Open Foundation on the recommendation of a friend. I started studying nursing and later gained entry to UON's Bachelor of Medicine (Joint Medical Program)." 

In 2014, the University of Newcastle's enabling program Open Foundation celebrates 40 years of providing people a pathway to university study. Nikki Payne is one Open Foundation student whose life path has been changed by the program and the opportunities it provides.  She said the enabling program prepared her well for what lay ahead in university study.

"I loved Open Foundation. I found the staff extremely supportive and encouraging, including the learning development team. I did extension mathematics and science for nursing and midwifery, and really enjoyed both courses. It was challenging enough that it kept me interested, but not so challenging as to leave me feeling like I couldn't be successful."

The University of Newcastle is committed to providing opportunities for people with ability and determination to enter and succeed in higher education, regardless of their backgrounds. This commitment means UON is the largest provider of domestic enabling programs in Australia and the proportion of its students from a low socio-economic background is 26 per cent, significantly higher than the sector average of 16 per cent.

Nikki admitted she was apprehensive before starting Open Foundation as she had not studied previously and did not know how she would cope with the pressure.

"My lecturers helped my transition go rather smoothly, as did the new friends I made," she said.

Today Nikki will be awarded a John Lambert Friends of the University Scholarship, on the basis of academic merit and equity criteria, to support her study in the highly competitive University of Newcastle Bachelor of Medicine (Joint Medical Program).

"Studying medicine is a whole new ball game. Going from part-time to full-time study was a major change, as well as going from one day per week away from my children to five days per week. Medicine is definitely challenging and also very interesting."

Nikki said she was keeping an open mind about potential specialities.

"At this stage I'm considering two pathways – either rural GP and/or obstetrics. I like the idea of the variety a rural GP encounters."

Nikki said the support of her family was vital to her success. "I could not have done all this without my husband Gerard who has been incredibly supportive and now primarily looks after our two children while I study. I'm also grateful for my mum who babysat one day every week last year so I could go into university for class."

Over its 40 years the UON Open Foundation program has introduced a diversity of people to higher education and to academic success. Approximately 35,000 people have enrolled in the Open Foundation since it started as a pilot in 1974 with only 80 commencing students.

Nikki Payne will graduate at 6pm on Wednesday 30 April at the English Language and Foundation Studies Centre Attainment Ceremony.


More than 2800 students are expected to graduate across 15 ceremonies at the University's Callaghan campus by the end of this fortnight. Students from the Faculty of Education and Arts and Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment graduated during six ceremonies last week.

This week the Great Hall will host ceremonies for the Faculty of Science and Information Technology and English Language and Foundation Studies Centre on Wednesday 30 April; the Faculty of Health and Medicine on Thursday 1 May and Friday 2 May; and the Faculty of Business and Law on Friday 2 May.

  • Carmen Swadling, Media and Public Relations
  • Phone: +61 2 4985 4276 or 0428 038 477.

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