The university rose to pronounced significance during the rise of Sweden as a great power at the end of the 16th century and was then given a relative financial stability with the large donation of King Gustavus Adolphus in the early 17th century. Uppsala also has an important historical place in Swedish national culture, identity and for the Swedish establishment: in historiography, literature, politics, and music. Many aspects of Swedish academic culture in general, such as the white student cap, originated in Uppsala. It shares some peculiarities, such as the student nation system, with Lund University and the University of Helsinki.
Uppsala belongs to the Coimbra Group of European universities and to the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. The university has nine faculties distributed over three "disciplinary domains". It has about 44,000 registered students and 2,300 doctoral students. It has a teaching staff of roughly 1,800 (part-time and full-time) out of a total of 6,900 employees. Twenty-eight per cent of the 716 professors at the university are women. Of its turnover of SEK 6.6 billion (approx. USD 775 million) in 2016, 29% was spent on education at Bachelor's and Master's level, while 70% was spent on research and research programs.
Architecturally, Uppsala University has traditionally had a strong presence in the area around the cathedral on the western side of the River Fyris. Despite some more contemporary building developments further away from the centre, Uppsala's historic centre continues to be dominated by the presence of the university.
As with most medieval universities, Uppsala University initially grew out of an ecclesiastical center. The archbishopric of Uppsala had been one of the most important sees in Sweden proper since Christianity first spread to this region in the ninth century. Uppsala had also long been a hub for regional trade, and had contained settlements dating back into the deep Middle Ages. As was also the case with most medieval universities, Uppsala had initially been chartered through a papal bull. Uppsala's bull, which granted the university its corporate rights, was issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477, and established a number of provisions. Among the most important of these was that the university was officially given the same freedoms and privileges as the University of Bologna. This included the right to establish the four traditional faculties of theology, law (Canon Law and Roman law), medicine, and philosophy, and to award the bachelor's, master's, licentiate, and doctoral degrees. The archbishop of Uppsala was also named as the university's Chancellor, and was charged with maintaining the rights and privileges of the university and its members.
The turbulent period of the reformation of King Gustavus Vasa resulted in a drop in the already relatively insignificant number of students in Uppsala, which was seen as a center of Catholicism and of potential disloyalty to the Crown. Swedish students generally travelled to one of the Protestant universities in Germany, especially Wittenberg. There is some evidence of academic studies in Uppsala during the 16th century; the Faculty of Theology is mentioned in a document from 1526, King Eric XIV appointed Laurentius Petri Gothus (later archbishop) rector of the university in 1566, and his successor and brother John III appointed a number of professors in the period 1569–1574. At the end of the century the situation had changed, and Uppsala became a bastion of Lutheranism, which Duke Charles, the third of the sons of Gustavus Vasa to eventually become king (as Charles IX) used to consolidate his power and eventually oust his nephew Sigismund from the throne. The Meeting of Uppsala in 1593 established Lutheran orthodoxy in Sweden, and Charles and the Council of state gave new privileges to the university on 1 August of the same year.