Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize on Tuesday welcomed the release of the Heher Commission report, emphasising that it does not make any pronouncements or decisions.
"It provides government with recommendations only. Decisions still have to be made by government. Government must have the space to conduct a thorough due diligence and to weigh up all aspects of the proposals," she said in Pretoria.
Mkhize shared that debt, especially for poor students, was a concern of hers and had to be monitored closely.
"Having come from a very poor background as well, my belief is that education is the ladder of taking yourself out of poverty - and your family. So if you inherit a huge debt coming out of school, it might not help those who have sacrificed to put you through."
Mkhize said that the release of the report would lead to healthy discussion on an informed basis, for a more sustainable way forward.
"This will provide an opportunity for the academic, student, and broader communities to study it and to familiarise themselves with the detail of Judge Heher's findings, proposals, and alternative scenarios," she said.
Peace on campuses
Mkhize called for peace on campuses.
She hoped students would be able to complete exams so they did not miss out on opportunities available to them.
She did not believe that the contents of the report might lead to a flare up of protests on campus.
"I have this belief that all representatives who are looking at the report have the students' plight at heart. I don't foresee any decision [in the report] that could harm the students per se," she said.
Responding to a question from a journalist, Director-General Gwebs Qonde said that they were not aware of an individual by the name of Mukovhe Morris Masutha, as he was not an employee of the higher education department.
According to reports, Masutha is behind a plan for free education which would fly in the face of the Heher Commission's findings that South Africa cannot afford blanket free higher education.
News24 reported exclusively on Monday that Morris was listed as an employee of the State Security Agency during his time as a student activist at Wits University.
The Heher Commission was put in place by President Jacob Zuma in 2015 following nationwide student protests over fees. It was headed by retired judge, Judge Jonathan Heher.
The Commission explored the viability of funding models for higher education. Zuma received the report on August 30 and "applied his mind" to it, only releasing it three months after receiving it.
The 752-page report - which was released on Monday - concluded that there was currently no capacity for the state to provide free tertiary education to all students in the country.
It recommends, among other things, government guaranteed income-contingency loans from commercial banks for undergrad and postgrad students, and a focus on technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges which will be free. R50-billion will be transferred from the surplus of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for infrastructure development.
Mkhize was previously the minister of Home Affairs before President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle on October 17.