Knowledge Exchange is big business for Queen Margaret University



Professor Petra Wend, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh, is a strategic thinker with an international perspective and a keen eye on the social horizon. Fluent in five languages, she has worked consistently throughout her career as an academic to cross borders, geographically, culturally and socially, in order to realise the full potential of the institutions she has been associated with and individuals within them. This driving force has determined her approach at the reigns of QMU.

Her views on social inclusion have been shaped by her own personal experience. Born and raised in Germany, Professor Wend was given her first break by a primary school teacher who managed to persuade her parents that she had potential. Both Professor Wend and her brother consequently became the first generation in her family to attend university.

Professor Wend explained: “As someone who didn’t come from a wealthy family or one with a university background, I certainly didn’t expect to become a university principal. “My career story began in my home country of Germany where I studied for my undergraduate degree, then onto Italy where I studied at postgraduate level. I studied for my PhD part-time while I worked as a language teacher. Then, whilst I was working as a university lecturer, management opportunities arose which I took step by step, and eventually, attracted by my current job, I found myself in the beautiful city of Edinburgh.” Before coming to Scotland, Professor Wend won a place on a competitive leadership programme at Harvard University for global women leaders. Recognising that women have very different negotiating styles from their male counterparts, the programme brought together a cross section of women leaders from all walks of life from across the world to develop business models in Harvard’s academic environment.

“I have had first hand experience of social exclusion. I am therefore passionate about breaking down barriers to education and encouraging those around me to explore opportunities that may not at first have seemed open to them.” At QMU, the Professor has built on the University’s strong reputation for widening access to higher education by developing innovative partnerships with primary and secondary schools, colleges, local authorities and industry. She said: “Success is rarely achieved in isolation. By pooling resources, sharing expertise, and working towards a common goal, anything becomes possible.”

She sights QMU’s ground-breaking Academies programme (spearheaded jointly by QMU and Edinburgh College) for 15 to 18 year olds, and the Queen Margaret Children’s University for 7 to 14 year olds, as two of the most exciting widening access projects which are delivering real results for a broad spectrum of Scotland’s young people.

Professor Wend describes herself as a strategic manager first and foremost. One of her first missions, when joining QMU, was to help the organisation better define its areas of teaching and research expertise and communicate them more effectively with the outside world. The University is now synonymous with its flagships in sustainable business, health and rehabilitation and creative industries. By inviting all staff to engage in the process of defining a clear vision for the future, Professor Wend has successfully led the institution out of its previously rather precarious financial situation several years ago and turned it into a healthy and financially robust institution with a well recognised distinctive role within Scotland’s university sector.

As part of her work in delivering financial sustainability for the University, she has nurtured the development of commercial income streams, with the University using its expertise to help businesses.

For example, Professor Wend was keen for QMU to capitalise on its association with food and nutrition, which dates back to the very inception of the institution in 1875. Over recent years, the University has significantly developed its research and commercial work supporting the growth and development of Scotland’s food and drink industry, particularly SMEs.

In the past three years, QMU’s innovation based engagements with SMEs in the food and drink sector have generated an estimated extra £5.7 million for the businesses it has worked with. In the last 10 months alone, QMU has engaged with over 90 food businesses. Recently, the University launched the Scottish Centre for Food Development and Innovation. The Scottish Government recognises the Centre as key to the delivery of Scotland’s Food and Drink Industry Strategy and Export Strategy. Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment said: “The Centre is helping companies evolve to meet new demand, develop new products and diversify into new markets, particularly lucrative expert opportunities.”

Since the Centre’s launch, in December, large nationals as well as leading global food companies have enlisted the University’s research support in helping them innovate and develop healthy functional foods.

Albeit a significant one, food is only one part of QMU’s commercial success story. Business, event, tourism and marketing academics are helping a variety of companies define their business strategies and break into new markets. In addition, the University’s internationally recognised work in speech and language sciences is having both a local and global impact. Articulate Instruments, a QMU spin out company, is working with QMU’s speech specialists to develop technologies and instruments which improve the diagnoses and treatment of speech disorders. The collaboration between Articulate Instruments and speech scientists and therapists at QMU is not only helping improve the lives of children and adults in Scotland – it has a global reach with 200 international customers in Europe, North America, Japan and Brazil.

Professor Wend’s ability to work collaboratively with other agencies – she is Vice Convener of Universities Scotland – and to lead people successfully through change by ensuring they are involved in shaping the outcomes, is paying dividends. QMU is in great shape. With the constant pursuit of excellence, a clear vision and a strong management team, QMU looks set to have a very bright future indeed.