Protesting students have rejected a proposed 6% cap on university fee hikes for 2016 and have demanded a 0% increase.
The revised increase was agreed on by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and vice chancellors, ahead of a possible nationwide protest on Wednesday.
"We are saying we want zero fee increases. We don't want this 6% cap they are talking about. We are continuing with our fight for free education," Sthembiso Ndlovu, the deputy chair of the South African Students Congress in Gauteng, told News24 on Tuesday.
He vowed earlier that all institutions of higher learning in the country would be shut down on Wednesday.
At the University of Pretoria, one of the organisers of the @UPrising movement told News24 the group was expecting Nzimande to "come up with something like this".
"On sunny days caps are needed, but there are clouds hanging over the country. It's going to rain and, unfortunately, we don't want caps. We want free education," said the organiser, who did not want to be named.
"We don't want to feel like we are being compensated or done a favour by offering caps. We want 0% increase because we know students are struggling to cope with the current fees and any increase will be a burden on them. Maybe when it's sunny outside we will accept the caps but not now."
At the University of Cape Town, protesters said a 6% increase was too much and that Nzimande must be "crazy".
Student leader Athabile Nonxuba said students had been told that the University of the Western Cape was joining the nationwide protest against fee increases on Wednesday.
Nonxuba said there were two demands: fees had to fall and there had to be no more outsourcing of work to contractors.
Another student leader said free education meant stipends as well for students.
"UCT must become a decolonised, public African university."
'There is the necessity to compromise'
Nzimande told reporters in Cape Town, after a meeting with vice chancellors from different universities, that they were "all sympathetic with the high cost of university education".
"In all conflict situations there is the necessity to compromise. No party gets 100% of what it wants.
"We really urge students to seriously consider the compromise… to seriously take this offer in the interests of the [higher education] system now that examinations are around the corner. We are already concerned about the possible impact of the lack of [teaching] days."
He said the right to protest and the importance of difference of opinion was recognised, but acts of violence were condemned.
Nzimande said President Jacob Zuma expressed relief that there seemed to be "light at the end of the tunnel".
"It is important that parties find each other so we can stabilise the situation at our universities."
The action started with students at the University of the Witwatersrand protesting on Wednesday last week against fees that would be increased by 10.5% to account for rising costs and inflation. Academic activities were brought to a standstill.
The university announced on Tuesday that it was closing the institution until next week Monday.
Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib said earlier at the briefing that "our aim is to get the academic programme on track. [It] would be really horrendous for the system if our students were impacted negatively by this".
This week students at Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town also began protesting, with students at the University of Fort Hare also joining in.
Protests were also seen at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Cape Town campus.
The University of Pretoria said it had suspended all academic activities for Wednesday "to allow for peaceful engagement on key issues affecting the institution".