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Vicky Blake (University of Leeds)

25 January 2024

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Vicky Blake (University of Leeds) 
Contextual Outreach Lead Officer (Academic Related) 

Democratise - Organise - Unite 

I have been active in UCU for 14 years, with experience at every level from a branch rep to UCU president. I am a genuinely independent candidate, and as General Secretary I will work to create a democratic, united, and organised UCU, built by and for our members.  

Our union requires a significant shift in the culture and approach of our leadership. I want to spend time in branches across all parts of the UK, including the wealth of educational establishments where members have historically felt side-lined. I will work with lay democratic structures to foster constructive, deliberative discussion and equip members and committees with reliable information and support.  

As General Secretary I will:   

  • Be accountable to members and the National Executive Committee as my employer  
  • Ensure transparency in decision-making structures, processes, and finances  
  • Value democracy by respecting our democratic structures and their decisions 
  • Include, engage and empower members and committees via reliable, effective communication and clear, timely legal and industrial advice 
  • Foster collaboration and productive debate to deter damaging infighting  
  • Ensure proper resourcing of research to back our organising work, political policy development, and lobbying 
  • Overhaul information management systems to support effective organising 
  • Proactively listen to and support our equality standing committees, who are vital in supporting our most marginalised members 
  • Improve the clarity and accessibility of our legal support system, in individual casework, and collectively in relation to test cases and legal challenges 
  • Empower branches to use equalities, health and safety, and employment law to campaign effectively, with guidance reflecting key differences across devolved nations and dependencies.   
  • Embed sustainability and climate advocacy into our bargaining agenda and union practices  
  • Ensure that UCU models fair employment practices, repairing industrial relations with our recognised staff union  

My professional and union work have prepared me for the role of General Secretary. I work in widening participation at the University of Leeds, where I'm Secretary, a caseworker, and former branch President. I coordinate programmes with schools and FE colleges that support young people to navigate socioeconomic barriers to post-16 education. My day job helps me to understand the nexus of education policy between FE and HE, and this has directly informed my union work locally and as chair of the UCU Education committee.  

Before local campaigning secured my permanent contract, I stitched together a decade of precarious fixed term, part time, and hourly paid academic and academic related posts in Durham and Leeds. I spoke to the Guardian about the toll of insecure work on precarious members in 2013 and in 2016, worked with Aditya Chakrabortty to bring about UCU's first front page exposÄ— of exploitation in the university sector. 

From 2012-17 I chaired the Anti-Casualisation Committee. During that time, we secured formal representation of casualised members across UCU and the inclusion of job security (backed by robust data collection) in local and sectoral bargaining claims. We deliberately worked across UCU' s factions to develop networks of casualised members and permanently employed allies, building common goals.  

I carry the lessons from working across political divides in this campaign into every aspect of UCU work, including my perspective on industrial action strategy. Successes across Further and Higher Education remind us that this union can win when we work together, and our recent disputes had the potential to be the strongest they have ever been, with FE branches achieving victories made possible by members' graft and commitment, and HE securing two consecutive sector wide aggregate mandates. However, moments of inconsistent communication, confused decision-making, and abrupt changes in strategy have undermined these campaigns, and disappointing results in the latest rounds of FE and HE ballots have left many members disenchanted by the distance between campaign rhetoric and lived reality.  

Maximising industrial leverage requires coordinated campaigning across branches, underpinned by practical support and greater development of regional and national networks. We need coherent industrial action planning which facilitates member engagement with our democratic structures, and encourages creative thinking grounded in solid research and legal advice. We must forge productive paths through disagreement rather than continuing to allow division to characterise UCU politics. This cannot be achieved by wishing away political divides or seeking to erase multiple perspectives. Handled well, disagreements are a source of problem solving, theory testing, and creativity. Recently we have missed opportunities to build in this way, only to see other unions succeed through employing strategies dismissed by UCU.  

This balance has always defined my approach to leadership in UCU. As HE Vice President (2019-20) I chaired the Higher Education Committee and led two UK HE negotiation teams. I consistently lobbied for better coordination of communication with members during this time, and the negotiation teams would collaboratively and democratically develop detailed analysis and recommendations for members, while remaining open to critical opinions and changes proposed by members. Neither the USS nor pay and conditions ("Four Fights") disputes were entirely resolved during this time, but each progressed because our team was able to effectively leverage the direct impact of strike action through careful negotiations. We successfully established key forums for interrogating the dubious valuation methodology which was integral to the USS dispute, and in negotiations with UCEA, successfully brought our demands on pay related conditions into formal talks for the first time.  

As President (2020-22) I chaired the National Executive Committee, Strategy and Finance Committee, International Working Group and UCU Congress. I represented UCU on the Trade Union Coordinating Group, which brings together 11 unions to campaign in and beyond Parliament. Via TUCG I directly contributed to early drafts of the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill, and collaborated on our responses to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, wider environmental work, and Covid-19. The trade union movement operates in an increasingly complex, hostile political context, making it vital to coordinate campaigns with political work for a just and sustainable education sector and society. 

I am ready and qualified to put in the time and effort required to create, restore, and improve the structures that our union needs to focus on maximising our industrial strength and leverage.  

A full list of my UCU roles appears below. You can learn more about me and my campaign on my website (, including my full manifesto, which includes sections about the key challenges across post-16 education.  

  1. Union Democracy, Accountability, and Transparency 
  2. Organising and Recruitment  
  3. Industrial Strategy 
  4. Equality, Health and Safety in our workplaces  
  5. Job security 
  6. Influencing policy and the political landscape 

UCU service: 

UK level: 

  • UK Officer 2019-2023:  
  • Vice President 2019-20  
  • UK President 2020-22  
  • Immediate Past President 2022-23  
  • Chaired Strategy and Finance Committee and International Working Group, 2020-2022 
  • NEC, HEC: Casualised representative 2013-17; National representative 2017-19, 2023-25 
  • Education Committee: 2016-23; Chair 2018-19 ,2023-24 
  • Climate and Ecological Emergency Committee: 2022-24; Co-Chair 2022-23 
  • Democracy Commission Co-Chair 2018-19 
  • Anti-Casualisation: 2011-17; Chair 2012-17 
  • Recruitment, Organising, Campaigns: 2013-18 
  • Academic Related, Professional Staff 2016-18; 2023-25 
  • Women Members 2011-13; 2016-17; 2018-19; 2023-25: 
  • TUC delegate 2016, 2018-23 
  • Women's TUC delegate 2012, 2013, 2017, 2019, 2023 


  • Yorkshire and Humber Regional HE Vice Chair 2023-24 

Leeds University UCU: 

  • Honorary Secretary 2023-24 
  • President 2017-19 
  • VP 2015-17 
  • Membership Officer 2014-15 
  • Committee 2012-present 

Durham UCU: 

  • Casualised organiser 2009-12 
  • Committee 2012 
Last updated: 20 February 2024