The number of Chinese students at Scottish universities rose by 30 per cent last year to 6,145, making them the largest group of non-EU students.
Recruitment campaigns by universities and the Scottish government are said to have made Scotland an increasingly popular destination for overseas students.
According to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), there was an 11 per cent increase in the number of students from outside the EU in 2010-11.
China is followed by the United States with 3,410, India with 3,290 and Nigeria with 2,410 students.
HESA recorded a small increase of 2.4 per cent in the number of non-UK students from other EU countries, despite a drop of almost 10 per cent in the number of students from Ireland.
This trend was due to a 4.2 per cent increase in the number of students from Germany, and almost double the number of students from Lithuania and Bulgaria.
Non-EU students pay high tuition fees in Scotland, making them an attractive source of income for universities and the Scottish economy. In 2010, education secretary Michael Russell visited China in a bid to promote closer cooperation in education.
A spokesman for Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen said Nigerian students were its biggest international market. This was "very much driven by our provision and reputation for oil and gas-related courses, which is of course a big sector in Nigeria"; most Nigerian students were postgraduates.
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said most international students came to Scotland to study shorter postgraduate courses, and this accounted for the sharp rise in just one year.
"Scotland's universities are regarded very highly around the world, which is in evidence from these figures which show a double-digit increase in international students since last year and more than double the increase seen in England," he said.
But he warned that the figures predated changes to immigration rules and so did not take account of the "negative impact this might have had on international student applications".
Across the UK, HESA recorded 2,073,070 UK students at HE institutions in 2010-11; 130,120 came from other EU nations and 298,110 were from countries outwith the EU. Students from China and India made up more than 35 per cent of all non-EU students.