Science

Eyes on the prize at UNSW: Indigenous scholarship in optometry

Thursday, 14 May, 2009
Dan Gaffney

Indigenous students who plan to study optometry next year at UNSW could benefit from a new scholarship program announced today. The eye care manufacturer Luxottica and UNSW have signed an agreement that will see the company contribute $60,000 over five years to fund the Luxottica Indigenous Scholarship in Optometry and Vision Science.

The Scholarship will support two full-time Indigenous students for the duration of the five-year Bachelor of Optometry/Bachelor of Science degree. The program will select one student to commence full time study in 2010 and a second student to commence in 2011.

The desire to foster more Indigenous health professionals in Australia was the driver for Luxottica to financially support Indigenous students to study optometry at UNSW, according to the company's chief executive, Chris Beer.

"This new scholarship program will allow greater access and more opportunities to promote eye health to Indigenous communities," says Mr Beer. "This is vital given that Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders suffer one of the highest rates of diabetes of any population group in the world - a condition that can pose many serious eye health risks, including blindness."

Selection will be based on academic merit and a statement by applicants stating their reasons for study. Applicants must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders intending to study optometry full time at UNSW. Scholarship holders will be asked to submit a written report each year to the UNSW Foundation outlining the benefits and experience they have gained while in receipt of the Scholarship. Selection into the program will be made by a panel comprising the UNSW Science Dean, the Head of School of Optometry, the Manager of UNSW's Scholarships Program and the Nura Gili Indigenous Programs Centre.

The new scholarship will be administered by the UNSW Foundation. Interested applicants should go to UNSW's Scholarships website: http://www.scholarships.unsw.edu.au/ Applications will close on September 30.

Scholarship signing ceremony: (L to R) Stergitsa Zamagias (Assistant Director, UNSW Foundation), Janina Jancu (Manager, UNSW Scholarships), Dr Peter Herse (Director, Institute of Learning, Luxottica), Professor Fiona Stapleton (Head of School, UNSW Optometry/Vision Science), Chris Beer (CEO, Luxottica), Jilda Simpson (Deputy Director, Nura Gili) and Professor Mike Archer (Dean, UNSW Science). Click image to enlarge.

Fact file

  • 20,000 Indigenous children have trachoma, a preventable cause of infectious blindness that occurs mainly in aboriginal people.
  • Australia has one practicing Aboriginal optometrist.
  • Indigenous UNSW optometry student Jenna Owen is the first in her family to attend university. When the 21 year old finishes her studies in 2010, she will become the first Indigenous optometrist in NSW.
  • In February 2009, the Commonwealth government announced $58m in funding and services to tackle eye and ear diseases in Indigenous communities - including diseases rarely seen outside the third world.

Media contacts: Dan Gaffney, UNSW, 0411 156 015, Cait Tynan, Luxottica, 0418 429 158