Situated in the futuristic-looking main building of the Sighthill campus, designed by RMJM architects and re-opened last year after a major revamp, it looks out over Sighthill and Broomhouse, a community that includes pockets of deprivation among the worst in Scotland. Being here is something that gives Stringer quiet satisfaction. If her career in education, spanning more than 30 years, has had a theme, it has been this: encouraging those brought up without the expectation of further or higher education, to consider the possibility of going to university.
"We've invested in a campus which is located in a part of Edinburgh where it matters economically, providing jobs for the local economy, but it also enables us to access the local community," she says. "Access is an important part of our mission."
Talent and potential, she stresses, do not exist only within a particular class or group. "A lot of the kids who don't go to college or university don't go because they don't have the expectation or the aspiration that it's for them."
When Stringer says this, she is speaking from experience. A miner's daughter from Stoke, she herself had no thoughts as a child of going to a university, let alone running one. Now 64 and due to retire next year, however, she has worked at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, first as a lecturer and then as vice-principal, was principal of Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh from 1996 until 2003 during which time it became a university, and has for the last nine years occupied the top job at Edinburgh Napier.
She is credited with having boosted the university's international standing and put its finances on a surer footing. In 2009, she was made Dame Joan Stringer, which she describes as "a big surprise" and "a bit breathtaking".
None of it was mapped out though; in fact, at one point, her life looked set to take a rather different course. "I was an 11+ failure," she says, laughing.
Now that is a surprise. In spite of the laughter, the memory of that bald rejection clearly still stirs her sense of injustice. The experience was a brutal lesson in the inherent unfairness of the supposedly equitable educational system she was brought up in.
"Even then, at the age of 11, being labelled a failure for something I thought didn't seem terribly fair, left me with this sense there was something not right," she reflects.
"I think that was a real motivating factor for me, one of my formative influences. The school I went to had no-one passing the 11+ the year before. The year I took it, one person passed but her sister was a teacher and had taken her through it. I didn't even know what the 11+ was until I was taken off on some bus to sit an exam somewhere."
The assumption was Stringer would go to the local comprehensive which had a poor reputation but her parents had other ideas. They themselves had both passed the grammar school entrance exam as children, but neither went, as their parents could not afford the uniforms. Both highly intelligent, says Stringer, they had educated themselves. "My father left school when he was 14, but he was self-learned, he read, he could play piano and was self-taught." Perhaps because of their own experiences, they passed on to their daughter and her two younger brothers a strong sense of the importance of education.
Stringer describes both her father, who died aged 90 earlier this summer, and her mother, who died seven years ago, as "very proud and dignified". It was a close family and she had a wonderful childhood, she says.
"They always wanted the best for their children and were proud of them. I think that was an important influence on me."
Her father worked in the pits until Stringer was a teenager but gave it up because her mother hated it. "I remember how, if he was late home from work, the anxiety levels rose in the house. My father had a brother who was also a miner and he was blinded at an early age in an accident. It was a very dangerous occupation." After that, both parents worked in Stoke's famous pottery industry. Following their intervention, she went, not to her local school but to another comprehensive, a junior high school, where she thrived. Art college followed. "I don't think university at that point even entered my head," she says.
The need to earn her keep and contribute to the family finances soon led her to leave education and look for a job, first at the telephone exchange, which she hated, and then as a graphic artist, which she loved. A job in local government came next, doing administration. She found it "utterly boring", but that proved to be a blessing in disguise since, to escape the boredom, she started doing day release classes at the local technical college.
Her public administration course introduced her to politics, economics and sociology and she loved it. At last, she started to see hitherto unimagined possibilities for herself. "I'd always had a kind of hidden desire to teach and probably when I was young thought it was out of my reach and then suddenly I realised that could be what I could do."
After getting a couple more A-levels, she applied to the local polytechnic, which proved fateful. "The guy who interviewed me said 'why are you not applying to university'?"
It was a moment of revelation. Why not indeed. So she did and was accepted to do politics and history at Keele, which she studied alongside her teaching qualification.
"I was the first in my family to go to university and my parents were extremely proud of that," she says.
She did a PhD in politics, taught at Keele and at Sudbury Open Prison, in Derbyshire, doing evening classes and then the job came up at Robert Gordon's as a lecturer in public administration, the first step on the road to this bright contemporary office at Napier, among the health, life sciences and sports departments.
Her job has tended to determine where she and her husband, a self-employed engineering consultant, live. This is her second marriage – she was previously widowed – and she has no children ("It was just not ordained. It's just the way things worked out.")
These days, she is always busy. After our interview, she is expected at St Andrew's House, the Scottish Government's headquarters, in her official capacity,but her day job is not her only commitment.
She has served on many public bodies including the Equal Opportunities Commission and the National Theatre of Scotland.
She is polite and welcoming, even when we run over time and she is left half-running to the car park to make her next meeting.
It has been said by businesswoman Ann Gloag that Stringer runs Napier like a business and she doesn't demur on this, though offers a clarification: "Part of the responsibility is to make sure you have a financially viable, healthy and sustainable organisation.
"So yes, I suppose I have taken a business-like approach, though obviously it's not a profit-making organisation. We make a surplus each year and that surplus is reinvested back into the university."
When she came, she discerned "enormous potential for growth and development", but felt Napier as a modern university lacked confidence. "I wanted employers to say 'that's a Napier graduate' even if they might have had the same qualifications as a student from another university. The fact they had the sort of interpersonal skills employers were looking for meant they were able to hit the ground running."
Napier has done well on this score – it was named best in Scotland for graduate employability in 2008. She has also boosted its profile internationally and was made an honorary citizen of Shandong province in China in 2007 after developing links with higher education institutions there.
Her retirement next June, she says, feels like it's approaching rapidly, and although she's looking forward to it, predicts the garden won't benefit much from her presence. She will have more time for interests such as music, reading and the theatre but intends to have an active retirement, contributing her skills and knowledge in other areas, outside education.
Stringer will be ending her frontline role as one of Scotland's most high-profile women and says she does feel pressure to "keep the side up".
To this end, she believes in making time for other women who might want help. Her advice is clear: work hard and don't take chauvinism personally. "Self-belief is so important," she says. "Women are not the greatest in that respect. I would always say: have a go."
Prof Dame Joan Stringer Academic