President Jacob Zuma on Monday acknowledged flaws in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and promised that government would attend to them.
The government and the ANC would address students' legitimate concerns about the cost of higher education, he said in Kempton Park at a higher education summit.
"Government continues to support poor students in our system through the consistent expansion of the NSFAS, loans and bursaries. Problems that have been stated by students about NSFAS are also acknowledged and are being attended to," he said.
He said the call from students had been heard "loudly and clearly" and that since 1994 everything possible was being done to help students from poor households obtain post-school education.
Zuma said government was, however, aware that more needed to be done. The recommended fee increases for 2017 announced last month were part of a short-term strategy.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced on September 19 that universities could decide their own fee increases for 2017, but that these had to be capped at 8% and poor students would be exempt.
"We must allow time for this to happen so that lasting solutions will be put in place, that do not in the long-term harm our system and our country."
The fee increases for 2017 were decided on after consultations. It was not a decision made in haste, he said.
"It was a collective decision of government, built on a firm commitment to more affordable higher education."
Some student leaders at the summit said his brief address was a sign of an "arrogant government". After Zuma left, students disrupted proceedings to demand his return.