Meet the ON-Cats! Alastair Woods

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Alastair Woods

Meet the ON-Cats is a recurring interview series profiling ONCAT’s A-team of transfer experts and aficionados. Grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and get to know the team that’s helping to reduce barriers for students looking to transfer between colleges, universities, and Indigenous Institutes across Ontario.

  1. What’s your role at ONCAT?

I am the Senior Policy Analyst here at ONCAT, and that makes me responsible for our collaborations with and reporting to government.

  1. What did you do before joining the organization? And what experience did you have with postsecondary transfer prior to working here?

I have spent my whole professional life in postsecondary education. I have been involved in student activism, I have worked for a former Minister in the Ontario government, and just prior to joining ONCAT, I was a Senior Policy Analyst at the Council of Ontario Universities.

  1. How does your work advance ONCAT’s mission to improve transfer students’ experiences in Ontario? And why does ONCAT’s mission resonate with you?

ONCAT receives our funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities, and it is my role to support the negotiation of our Transfer Payment Agreement for that funding and ensure we meet our reporting obligations and deliverables. In many ways, I serve as the link between the incredible day-to-day work of the ONCAT team and the birds-eye view of the Ministry.

ONCAT’s mission resonates for me because I took a somewhat unorthodox path myself, going from an undergraduate degree in political science to graduate school at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. I believe strongly that higher education is also a process of self-exploration, and I think transfer grants students more opportunities to find a place for themselves.

  1. Transfer students make up a relatively small amount of the Ontario postsecondary student population—approximately 6-9%. Why do you think postsecondary institutions should still focus on improving transfer student experiences?

I think that transfer dovetails quite nicely with the emphasis on flexibility and adaptability in education, training, and the labour market. I am no psychic (though I do hold a Master’s degree in Strategic Foresight!) but I imagine that the proportion of transfer students within our postsecondary system will gradually increase over the next ten years because of how quickly everything changes now. I think of my own experience as an undergraduate studying International Development, which had a lot of opportunities in 2007, but due to political, social and economic changes over the subsequent years did not seem like a stable career path when I graduated in 2013. That kind of shift happens much more quickly these days; what made sense for someone to study in one year might not look so appealing the next.

  1. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about postsecondary education—or student transfer—since starting your work at ONCAT?

I have been able to learn a lot more about Ontario’s Indigenous Institutes. I worked in the government when they were made an official pillar within our postsecondary system, but I left shortly after. So this is the first opportunity I have had to really see the incredible work they are doing. I hope I can be more engaged with them and supportive of their work in the year ahead.

  1. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

We share priorities with the government, and much of our work revolves around these joint priorities. But it is a careful and ongoing balancing act to make progress on these goals while also ensuring the Ministry understands the complexity of the issues and the day-to-day work ONCAT does. We are constrained and enabled by a variety of factors internally and externally, only some of which we can control. So a large part of my job is a constant recalibration of expectations, priorities and actions at both ONCAT and the Ministry; ensuring we meet certain targets and deliverables while also articulating the very real obstacles and challenges we face to our partners in government.

  1. If you could give any advice to yourself as a student, what would you say?

I don’t think I would have any advice. Not to say that my academic path was easy or perfect. Like many students, I struggled with finances, juggling work and school, and my mental health. But I am a strong believer that we do the best we can with the tools we have in the circumstances we find ourselves in. I have no regrets about the choices I made, even if I can see they weren’t the best ones with the benefit of hindsight. And who knows, maybe a piece of advice to my younger self would alter everything and I wouldn’t be here at ONCAT! Which, in my mind, would be a small tragedy in itself because I love it here.

Just for fun …

  1. What’s your go-to restaurant or recipe?

Banjara! Best Indian food in the city hands down. They’re just on the southwest corner of Christie Pits Park.

  1. What’s the first place you would want to travel to in a post-pandemic world?

Mexico City. It is just an incredible place, full of museums, interesting architecture, big leafy streets and – of course – incredible food.

  1. Cats or dogs?

Both! I grew up with dogs, but currently have a cat. He is a 13 year-old tabby named Prince (after the artist) who is both incredibly cute and supremely annoying.

  1. Any great books or movies you’ve enjoyed recently and want to recommend?

I am a big fan of the Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. His movies are slow and enigmatic, often incorporating myth and folklore and Buddhist philosophy. His latest, Memoria, stars Tilda Swinton as an expat in Colombia who is haunted by a loud bang that only she seems to hear. But anything by him is worth watching, just don’t get too caught up trying to “understand” the films – they are meant to be experienced.


Stay tuned for more interviews in our upcoming newsletters. To learn more about our team and how we’re working to remove barriers to postsecondary transfer in Ontario, visit