Is education really Australia’s biggest services export?

According to reports in this morning’s papers, drawing on Monday’s ABS international trade figures, education is now Australia’s biggest services export, overtaking tourism by nearly $1 billion for 2007 ($12.5 billion vs $11.5 billion).

But as the ABS doesn’t follow tourists or students around counting how much they spend, both these figures are estimates of their expenditure while in Australia. The tourism figures are based on the International Visitor Survey, which asks departing international travellers various questions, including about their spending. It is an on-going survey.

The student data, by contrast, is updated much less regularly. It is based on the Survey of International Students Spending (pdf), last conducted in 2004-5, and updated according to the CPI.
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