This academic luminary was born on 17 December 1939 in Kota Bahru, Kelantan. She received her early education at Sekolah Rendah Inggeris Perempuan (now Sekolah Rendah Zainab) Kota Bharu from 1948 - 1952 and then from 1953 to 1957 she studied at Maktab Perempuan Melayu, Kuala Lumpur (later relocated to Seremban and renamed to Kolej Tunku Kursiah). After completing the Cambridge School Certificate, she then furthered her studies at St. Francis Institution, Malacca until she passed the High School Certificate (HSC) in 1959. She then obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Literature in 1963 and a Masters in Literature in 1965 from University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.
From 1972 till 1975, she continued her higher education studies at the University of Ohio, United States until she received a Doctorate Degree in Linguistics. Prof. Emeritus Datuk Dr. Nik Safiah Karim is very much synonymous with University of Malaya due to the fact that apart from pursuing her studies there she also served as a lecturer especially in the Department of Malay Studies till 1999.
Her involvement in the Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (PERTIWI) began in 1967 where together with Datuk Zakiah Hanum, Dato' Hajah Rahmah Abdul Hamid, Datin Habibah A.Manan, Puan Sri Zaleha Jalil, Puan Sri Rogayah Rashid, Puan Azah Aziz, Datin Amnah Kamal and Datin Asiah Ibrahim had strived together towards strengthening PERTIWI until it became one of the respected women associations to this day.
Today, after 40 years since the inception of PERTIWI, Prof. Emeritus Datuk Dr. Nik Safiah Karim is still active and going strong in undertaking the activities of the association and since 2001 has been appointed as Head I of PERTIWI until today.