The organisation, which promotes internationalisation of the Netherlands' education system and markets the country overseas, said the 6,163 rise in students (eight per cent growth) was the highest annual increment recorded, and the student body was comprised of 164 nationalities.
The majority of the growth was at research universities, which had almost 48,000 overseas students last year, while universities of applied sciences rose slightly to just under 33,500.
Commenting on the Netherlands' growing appeal as a study destination, Arnold Persoon, ISC Partnership Director for Europe at Study Group, which has several partner universities in the country, said, "Virtually all master's degrees have been taught in English for over a decade, but the number of undergraduate courses available in English is also now growing rapidly year on year.
"The universities are very active and visible and the political climate in the UK has caused students to consider alternatives in Europe. Holland has a relatively high brand awareness and strong USPs including highly ranked partners, low tuition fees and work permit opportunities after graduation."
Germany remained the largest source country for the Netherlands with 22,189 students, despite declining slightly for the fifth year in a row, while China stayed steady in second place and provided 4,347 students.
In absolute numbers, the largest growth came from Italy, which increased by more than 700 students to 3,347 and leapfrogged Belgium to become the third-largest sender. The UK, in fifth place, also continued its growth trajectory with an additional 460 students last year.
The number of international students as a percentage of all higher education students in the Netherlands rose to 11.4 per cent in 2016/17, a new peak for the sector. The ratio increases to 18 per cent at research universities and 22.5 per cent for master's programmes.
First-year student data in the Nuffic report would appear to indicate that that the strong growth is likely to continue: international students represented 14.8 per cent of all new enrolments, and more than a quarter of first-year master's students.
Arnold said the 2016-17 growth at Study Group's Holland International Study Centre (HISC) was healthy, but was slightly dampened, compared with previous years, due to changes in visa regulations for students from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
"For the coming year, we are expecting significant growth again and although it is early in the cycle the confirmations pipeline looks exceptionally strong versus last year, which should be an indicator of the quality of the pipeline. Currently, we are seeing strong growth from the former Soviet region (the region is price sensitive due to changes in the exchange rate and Holland offers a good value for money proposition), and in Ecuador where there are many sponsored students."
In the report, Nuffic also examined the growth in the 11 markets where it has Netherlands Education Support Offices (NESOs), and found that collectively full-degree international student recruitment from these markets has grown by 152.1 per cent in the last decade.
Of the 11 NESO markets, mainly located in Asia and Latin America, Indonesia had the largest student enrolment increase last year (+300), followed by India (+223). All of the NESO markets increased, albeit some by marginal increments.
Agents are increasingly becoming part of the recruitment mix, said Arnold. "The research universities are still a bit careful in their approach to working with agents directly, although they are slowly starting to increase their agent network. One challenge they have in working with agents is that the universities charge relatively low tuition fees and are typically uncomfortable with paying commission to agents at similar rates as universities in the UK and Australia. This makes it relatively difficult for agents to significantly invest in promoting the Dutch brands.
"For foundation programmes, Study Group pays a commission rate comparable to the UK and Australia so this has increased the interest of agents in investing in promotion of the Dutch university brands."
Maastricht University was the largest host institution with 8,952 overseas students, which constituted 55.9 per cent of the student body at the institution, followed by the University of Groningen (5,420) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (5,289). After Maastricht, the highest ratios of international students were recorded by specialist institutions Hotelschool the Hague (36.5) and Amsterdam School of the Arts (28.1).
"Of course, it is great that international students contribute to the state treasury, but there is another important reason," said Freddy Weima, Director of Nuffic. "International students contribute to an international classroom at Dutch higher education institutions, which benefits all students. With the knowledge, experience and networks that they bring from their own country, they enhance the quality of education in the Netherlands."
By Matthew Knott